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The value of a good veterinarian-producer relationship

Joe C. Paschal for Progressive Cattleman Published on 16 May 2017
vet truck

Since the recently enacted changes in the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules, there is renewed interest in creating or improving the producer’s relationship with their veterinarian, which is surprising to me at least – I usually have a good relationship with my cattle vet.

In the past 40 or so years, I’ve had several veterinarians provide advice and veterinary assistance to my cattle, horses and pets, and I think I had a good relationship with most of them. Not all of them remained my veterinarian. Some of them went out of business or passed away, and a couple of them were not as knowledgeable, skilled or as helpful as I would have expected. But all in all, they were professional in manner and I respected their opinion and service – especially in matters concerning the health and well-being of my animals.

In most producer surveys that I have seen, veterinarians are among the most highly rated as sources of unbiased and accurate information on beef cattle production. This is probably more the case on animal health, but also genetics and reproduction, feeding and nutrition, welfare and handling, and possibly even marketing. I am not saying that all veterinarians are experts in all of those fields (just being an expert in veterinary medicine should be enough), but most large animal veterinarians – even the new ones – see a lot more cattle operations in a week than many of us do in a month or even a year.

I know from personal experience as an extension specialist that a visit to a ranch with the owners is priceless when you consider the information you can pick up, ranging from herd health problems and practices to information about genetics, reproduction, nutrition and marketing practices. Of course that information is confidential, but there are certainly “takeaway” points that can be used to advise other clients or ranchers. Knowledge of local diseases and parasites, toxic plants, etc., can keep producers from vaccinating or treating for parasites that are not a problem in their area and can help producers identify and control poisonous plants in their pastures.

Having a veterinarian when you’re working your cattle provides you with an extra set (sometimes more if they bring their tech along) of hands as well as eyes and even ears. Using an experienced veterinarian to palpate your cows and heifers often provides you with more than merely a “pregnant” or “open” designation. If the breeding dates are unknown, an estimate of fetal size can provide a calving month (or months bred). Early breeding females, especially heifers, can be identified and sorted before calving in case assistance is needed. A veterinarian could also determine the status of a fetus (normal or dead) or the presence of twins. Females diagnosed open could be evaluated for their health status or body condition; then after determining what might be affecting their health and condition, your veterinarian could offer possible remedies that could be implemented.

Since your veterinarian is not as familiar with your cattle as you are, they tend to be a little more detailed in their evaluation of them. That is part of the service they provide. They can help you with choices in animal health products and practices, and help you develop a herd health program as well as guidelines to take care of minor emergencies.

I know not all veterinarians are going to be like the ones I described, but there are plenty that are, and those are the ones you should be using. As I related, I’ve had several veterinarians over the years, and the one I have now I really like, and I appreciate her, her associates and her staff. We don’t always agree on animal health products or practices. We discuss her and my ideas and come up with options – sometimes more of one and less of the other. But at least we cover the ground.

They are not long debates; she has a busy practice and other clients, but she knows my operation and my cattle. She can give me directions and I will follow them. I know up front what something is going to cost me. And when I am in town, I stop and buy her staff the taquitos or cinnamon rolls I know they like so they have a little more interest in my calls and requests. In return, I pay my bills on time, and as a result, she always answers my calls (of course, it helps that she’s my daughter).  end mark

Joe C. Paschal
  • Joe C. Paschal

  • Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist
  • Texas A&M University
  • Email Joe C. Paschal

PHOTO: It is important that you consult with your veterinarian often. Photo provided by Joe C. Paschal.