The traditional model for how bovine veterinarians interact with clients – responding to problems and providing diagnostic services – will not, alone, sustain veterinary practices in the future. Instead, veterinarians need to spend more time addressing clients’ big-picture goals, says Colorado State University Extension Veterinarian Frank Garry.
This year’s American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference followed a theme of “Become Indispensable,” with much of the conference content exploring ways practitioners can build their business by expanding services and helping clients become more successful. Dr. Garry’s session, titled “Becoming Indispensable by Making What Really Matters What Really Matters.”
Garry says the traditional model of providing routine services falls short for several reasons.
- Non-veterinarian technicians increasingly can provide those services.
- Simply treating sick or injured animals, while important, falls short in terms of meeting larger goals for animal health, performance and welfare. Those require an emphasis on prevention and monitoring.
- The old model assumes the producer knows the need and asks for service.
- Providing worker education, screening for infectious diseases, monitoring outcomes and addressing the impacts of subclinical disease are more likely to help clients minimize health risks, decrease production costs and boost profits.
Most producers, of course, still rely on their veterinarians for routine services, and might not even recognize the potential for employing additional services that could benefit their businesses. In the most recent, 2014 dairy survey from the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System, Producers asked how they utilize their veterinarians generally listed treating disease and technical services on top, with employee training and other value-added services falling further down the list.
Veterinarians, Garry says, often could build their practice while helping clients succeed by offering assistance with:
- Culling decisions.
- Mortality diagnostics.
- Proactive health monitoring.
- Worker training and education.
- Detailed protocols for vaccine and antibiotic use.
- Purchase decisions.
- Herd additions and genetic selection.
- Infectious disease control.
- Investigation of performance or reproduction shortfalls.
- Animal welfare issues.
In-depth problem identification and creative solutions help make veterinarians indispensable, Garry says.
Garry also notes that changes in production practices, adopted for legitimate reasons, can have unintended consequences. Free-stall dairy barns, for example, provide production efficiencies but can have consequences on animal health and welfare. The veterinarian can help minimize unintended consequences by determining benchmarks and monitoring metrics as operations adopt new practices.
Workers in large beef and dairy operations have, Garry says, have replaced owners and managers as primary animal caregivers. They identify cattle with problems, institute primary care and determine when the veterinarian’s involvement is needed. Veterinarians, by working closely with crews and providing ongoing education, can help keep operations on track toward meeting their health and performance goals. “We create demand through education,” he says.