The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) has released its report from the Small-scale U.S. Livestock Operations, 2011 study. The report contains information collected from 8,123 small-scale livestock operations in all 50 states, and points to some opportunities for food-animal veterinarians.

The study included many questions about the availability and the use of veterinarians on these operations. Overall, almost two of three operations (62%) used a veterinarian for their livestock or poultry during the previous 12 months (the study did not break this down by type of livestock).

Of the 38% of operations that did not use a veterinarian, 65.8% did not use a veterinarian because they had no disease or other need for a veterinarian, 44.2% did not use a veterinarian because they provided their own health care for their animals, and 12.4% did not use a veterinarian because of the expense. The most common “other” reason for not using a veterinarian was that the animals (typically poultry or swine) were raised under contract and the contractor provided any necessary veterinary care for the animals.

The good news is that overall, 82% of operations had a veterinarian that worked with their type of livestock available within 29 miles of the operation. The bad news is that In the West, about one of four operations was located 30 to 99 miles from the nearest veterinarian that worked with their type of livestock, and for 0.9% of operations, no veterinarian was available or the nearest veterinarian was 300 or more miles away from the operation.

The report notes that considering that there are about 350,000 small-scale livestock operations in the U.S., this means that about 3,150 operations (0.9% x 350,000) either have no access to a livestock veterinarian or would have to travel 300 or more miles to reach one. One caveat to this data is that 25% of those indicating that there is no veterinarian available within 300 miles raised “other” livestock species, such as aquaculture, fur-bearing animals, or bees. But still, that leaves a hefty number of operations without a reasonable distance to species-specific veterinary care.

What was interesting is that generally, veterinarians in the West were farther away from farms compared with veterinarians in the South, but a higher percentage of operations used veterinarians in the West than in the South.

Foreign animal disease notification
The livestock industry is concerned with potential foreign animal disease, and identifying/working with small-scale livestock operations, especially those without a veterinary relationship, could be a challenge. The NAHMS report says early detection would be critical to mitigating the effects of an outbreak.

The study showed that most operations (85.1%) would be very likely to directly contact a private veterinarian if they had an animal suspected of having a foreign animal disease, and overall 96.0% of operations were somewhat or very likely to contact at least one of these resources: private veterinarian, Extension/university, state veterinarian’s office, USDA, other. “Other” resources that would be contacted included other producers, neighbors, contracting company (for contract operations), and diagnostic laboratories.

This is a good reason why veterinarians should attempt to communicate with small-scale livestock producers in their practice areas and establish a dialogue, if not a relationship.

Read the full report here.