If beef cattle veterinarians don’t continue to step up and offer services their clients want, someone else will, says Kee Jim, DVM, Feedlot Health Management Services, Okotoks, Alberta.

Jim, addressing hundreds of veterinarians at the 45th Annual American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting in Montreal, Canada, said beef cattle practice has changed over the years due to a number of factors, but those practitioners with the drive and strategic thinking skills can still make an impact.

Jim said that prior to the mid-1980s in western Canada there were no specialty feedlot or cow-calf practices. “The old model was a fee-for-service and consultation was basically free,” he said. “Veterinarians were undercharging their services and depended on capturing drug sales. This was a bad strategy when other sources of animal health drugs became available.”

Many of the changes in the North American beef industry have affected beef cattle practice include:

  • Consolidation in all phases
  • Veterinarians were no longer the exclusive drug supplier
  • The total number of clients and number of cattle have decreased
  • Carcass weight increased and the number of cattle produced decreased
  • Operations were no longer “mom & pop”, they were sophisticated with economies of scale
  • There were fewer patients and fewer customers
  • The opportunity to see patients was reduced as producers assumed more animal health tasks

In response, Jim said, feedlot veterinarians became specialists, took on a more consultative role and started charging differently such as on a per diem basis, per cow in a cow-calf herd or on occupancy in a feedlot.

FHMS responded by increasing its services, scientists and other staff, going from one person to over 20 professional and 60 other staff. Multidisciplinary teams of scientists and paraprofessionals in an all-inclusive practice can offer services such as veterinarians, nutritionists, epidemiologists, statisticians, IT, engineers, etc. “A practice like this can offer experts for a complex world,” Jim said.

“Beef cattle veterinarians must radically change their business models or risk marginalization,” he said. “We need to change approaches and find new revenue streams to create win-win situations for us and our clients. Bold innovation is required, not just repackaging old herd health concepts.”