In the last 20 years, the rapid change in technology, science and consumer activism and engagement has had an enormous impact on the agriculture sector, including food-animal medicine. In honor of Bovine Veterinarian’s 20th anniversary, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners asked its leadership and others within the organization for 20 significant (positive or negative) events, technologies, products, regulatory actions or social issues that have changed how veterinarians practice bovine medicine.

While there have been many more than 20, the following impacts, in no particular order, tended to rise to the top:

Beef quality assurance (BQA) — The BQA program, established in the 1970s, made significant strides in the last 20 years with guidelines on handling, transportation and other topics. It has impacted how veterinarians give medications and has emphasized how important on-farm procedures, including animal welfare, are to the overall quality and safety of beef, including dairy beef. Veterinarians have had a key central role in developing the program so it hasn’t been without major veterinary professional input and participation.

Regulatory actions — Numerous regulatory actions have impacted bovine veterinarians in the last 20 years. One is FDA Guidance 209, with anticipated removal of medically important antimicrobials from growth promotion uses in the next three to five years and the requirement for veterinarians to provide a prescription for all feed and water uses of these products for prevention, control or therapy. Changes in drug approvals include the approval and availability of multiple single-injection antimicrobials for bovine respiratory disease and the inclusion of microbial-safety approval requirements for food-animal antimicrobial drugs. The growth of antimicrobial susceptibility results for both human and animal isolates and our struggle to understand the epidemiology behind it have brought challenges to the industry.

Vaccines — In the last 20 years, advances in vaccine development and changes in labeling have altered how veterinarians implement herd health programs. Type II BVDV vaccines, intranasal vaccine advances, E. coli and Salmonella core antigen vaccines, advances in clostridial vaccines, fetal protection claims — they have added some strategic ammunition to the arsenal of products now available.

Genomics — The science of genetics, genomics and DNA has exploded in the last two decades. In 2004 the first draft of the bovine genome sequence was released to the public domain. More genetic diseases in specific breeds of cattle have been identified. DNA profiling of cattle has changed breeding decisions and has further enhanced elite genetics. Research into genetic markers for health parameters such as BRD are ongoing.

Pregnancy diagnosis — Pregnancy diagnosis in cattle has evolved from the arm to the ultrasound to the milk/blood test. Each of these methods has a place in reproductive  programs, and all are widely used across the cattle industry.

Ultrasound — Ultrasound has become a fixture in many large-animal practices. Besides pregnancy diagnosis, veterinarians use ultrasound scanning for fetal sexing, fetal aging and diagnosis of reproductive issues. Sophisticated and portable ultrasound units allow a variety of on-farm diagnostic applications such as lameness and other disorders.

Synchronization programs — Numerous reproductive synchronization programs have been developed and used in the last two decades, mostly in dairy, but increasingly in beef as well. Veterinarians have been instrumental in helping clients determine which of these programs will work within their management schemes, and how to properly use the reproductive drugs. Along with synchronization programs, heat detection systems and technology have become more sophisticated.

rBST — Approved in 1994, rBST has had wide-reaching impacts such as increasing milk production, as well as having its share of controversy. Many veterinarians were involved in working with dairy veterinarians and producers on implementing this product and changing cow-management programs to include it on the dairy. The controversy over rBST-free milk created changes in how milk is marketed and highlighted the importance of understanding the business beyond the farm gate.

Nutrition — The science of cattle nutrition probably rivals human nutrition in the diversity and type of products fed from coast to coast on beef and dairy operations. Some believe that improvements in dry-cow nutrition and understanding energy, protein and mineral needs have been almost revolutionary in improving dairy cattle health and performance. Advancements in young-calf nutrition and understanding their unique nutritional needs have allowed calves to grow faster than in the past.

20 impacts on bovine medicineMarket consolidation — Market consolidation in the beef and dairy sectors has forced veterinarians to re-evaluate services offered, develop and market new services for clients, and even restructure practice models. This creates management opportunities and challenges, and the profession is in a great position to provide the needed advice and guidance for their clients who may be expanding. It changes the demand for veterinary services and is part of the reason the profession is dealing with a veterinary supply dilemma now.

Electronic communication — There can be no denying how the Internet, email and related devices have changed the manner and the pace at which the world now communicates. Food-animal veterinarians, even those in far-flung rural areas, have taken advantage of the efficiencies in communication technology. Cell phones, texting, email, digital photography, “telemedicine,” digital necropsies, electronic health papers, laptops, iPads and the like have advanced the ability to share information quickly.

Facility design — Veterinarians have become more involved in helping their clients design new or retrofit existing dairies, feedlots and even their own haul-in practices. Teaming with engineers, architects, animal scientists and welfare experts, veterinarians are instrumental in helping make modern facilities work for the health and welfare  of cattle, as well as the financialhealth of the operation.

Immunology — Some of the greatest impacts on bovine medicine have come through our increasing understanding of bovine immunology. The fundamentals of antibody transfer, or failure of passive transfer, have changed how colostrum is managed to improve short-term survival and longterm growth and productivity. Tests such as measuring serum total solids in the first week of life are proving to be an easy and inexpensive way to  characterize passive transfer. Improvedunderstanding of cell-mediated immunity and measuring its response has increased knowledge of how and when vaccination and other management practices support an effective immune response. Research over the past 20 years has shown calves often can be primed for improved immune responses when first vaccinated while they still have some circulating maternal antibody.

Diagnostic tests — The development and use of immunohistochemistry (IHC) on an ear-notch for the identification of persistent bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) infection in the 1990s helped the livestock industry in its fight against BVDV. Many other infectious agents can also be identified by IHC. IHC can demonstrate the presence of the agent and the association of the agent with the corresponding lesion. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is even more sensitive. Real-time PCR and multiplex PCR testing have greatly increased the speed at which results can be produced.

BSE/FMD/FADS — Who can forget the “Cow that Stole Christmas”? The first bovine spongiform encephalopathy case in the United States was confirmed Dec. 23, 2003. Two years prior, the United Kingdom had 2,000 cases in a foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak, resulting in 10 million sheep and cattle killed. Epidemiological patterns of diseases are changing rapidly; even with eradication of Rinderpest, many old diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis are strongly re-emerging. Those diseases and other foreign animal diseases have heightened the discussion and awareness of the veterinary community’s responsibility to observe, identify and report suspicious cases of disease.

Parasite resistance — Anthelmintic resistance has been identified worldwide. Veterinarians have been instrumental in educating themselves and their clients on good parasite management and reducing or avoiding anthelmintic resistance by using diagnostics testing, rotating anti-parasitic products and developing or changing management schemes for producers.

Pain control and assessment — Driven by the animal-welfare sector and fueled by activists and social issues, pain control in cattle for common procedures such as dehorning, castration and others has risen to the forefront. The identification of compounds such as meloxicam and carprofen that maintain effective analgesic drug concentrations for several days after a single administration has the potential to give veterinarians options for pain control. Research focused on the development of objective pain assessment tools such as thermography, pressure algometry, accelerometers, pressure mats and plasma neuropeptide assessment offers to take the discussion to a scientific level.

Animal welfare — Animal-welfare issues have taken center stage, especially in the last 10 years. The American College of Animal Welfare became an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization offering board certification. Animal-welfare and cattlehandling techniques by the likes of Temple Grandin, PhD; Tom Noffsinger, DVM; and Bud Williams have been widely adopted and used by the livestock industry. The development of welfare assessments and audits are programs veterinarians have been able to offer producers. Emphasis on beef calf pre-conditioning and cull dairy cow handling and transport is evident at veterinary meetings.

Animal activists — There can be no doubt that animal activism has had an impact on the livestock industry and food-animal veterinarians. A flurry of laws throughout the country on sow housing, tail docking and other accepted practices has caused veterinarians to work closely with producers when production practices must change, as well as to ensure proper animal care and treatment.

Student debt — Veterinary student debt continues to climb and has been the focus of industry and consumer discussion. Average veterinary school debt is around $180,000 at many schools. The USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program, which pays up to $25,000 each year an eligible veterinarian is in the program, only impacts a handful of graduates. Offering competitive salaries to enable recent graduates to pay down  student debt is a topic of many veterinaryconference discussions.