Love cute and fluffy animals of all sizes and shapes? Yes! Want to safeguard the health and welfare of animals? Absolutely! Want to make a real difference in not only the local community but globally as well? You betcha!
Well, you should consider the Production (Food) Animal Veterinary Field. I am a fourth Year BVSc (Hons) Student at the University of Queensland and I am very passionate about making a difference to not only the lives of production animals, but also to the lives of farmer’s/industry personnel. I have found that Production Animal veterinarians are entrusted with an important responsibility to protect not only the health and wellbeing of production animals but also ensure the security of the food-supply chain and aid in the prevention of emerging diseases of public health significance. But did you know that there is a current Production Animal/Mixed Animal veterinarian shortage in many countries? We need more Production Animal Vets! We need rural vets! We need them now!
In Australia alone, the Production Animal Industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. From the grassroots production on farms to abattoir inspection services, Veterinarians are needed at all levels and aspects of production. However, there seems to be a declining trend in the number of vet students entering and remaining within Production Animal Vet Roles in rural areas. The Frawley Report of 2003 in Australia noted that “rural mixed practices have difficulty attracting and retaining experienced veterinarians. If no action is taken and current trends continue, shortages could emerge, starting in remote areas with practices that have a high reliance on production animal services.” 1 This is a worrying worldwide trend as Production Animal Vets are imperative in more ways than one.
With increasing globalization, increased need for future food security combined with the ever-expanding growth of all animal industries, Production Animal Vets have an important responsibility.2 They have the responsibility to safeguard food security and trade. Production Animal veterinarians are entrusted with the safety and the security of the nation’s foods of animal origin. They are involved in many programs that influence the export and import of animal-related goods. Not only are they entrusted to maintain a country’s disease-free status, but also they ensure governments are able to adhere to other trading countries’ regulations regarding trade status. At every level, a veterinarian is employed to monitor disease occurrence and disease status. This is especially important in today’s age of bioterrorism. The world’s animal and agricultural industries are vulnerable to bioterrorism agents. This notion has further reinforced the production animal veterinarian’s role in safeguarding food security. With being involved with key surveillance measures, early detection, eradication programs and rapid responses, Production Animal Vets are at the forefront of all one health issues.
At a national and state level Production vets have an important role in public health safety. Firstly, Production Vets can improve farm hygiene to reduce rates of food-borne illnesses. According to Hall et. al (2005), there are roughly estimated 5.4 million cases of food-borne illnesses annually resulting in greater than 15,000 hospitalizations.3 Key infectious agents include E.coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, Norovirus, Prions (BSE), Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Trichinella. Production Vets can help reduce these infectious agents at the farm level through raising awareness of the importance of appropriate sanitation measures, milk pasteurization and improved meat processing.
Secondly, Production Vets are the first on the scene of animal outbreaks. This is critical with the current trend in emerging zoonotic diseases e.g. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), H1N1, FMD to name a few. Production Vets are often the first to diagnose an animal or herd/flock of animals with potentially exotic, notifiable pathogens. Picture this: you’re a high producing dairy producer in coastal Australia. As you bring your cattle up for the morning milking you notice that one your best milkers is ataxic with a left head tilt. She is getting progressively worse each day. She is now unable to stand and some other cows are now showing similar neurological signs. You call the local Farm Vet as you are worried that a recent protein supplement you imported from SE Asia maybe causing these signs in your cattle. She euthanizes your best milker, performs basic diagnostic tests and notifies Biosecurity Queensland as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) is now high on the differential list. BSE was confirmed and the OIE notified. Australia’s BSE free status is now in question. After the initial outbreak, the production vet helped control the situation on the farm through isolation, quarantine, disinfection and stamping out measures. She also installed an ongoing awareness program for local producers and encouraged reporting of all cases. Australia is now back on track to gain its BSE disease-free status again through continued sampling and surveillance measures. Not only does the vet help you control the issue on the local level, she also helps you through the process of compensation for your losses. So a socio-economically important disease is controlled at the farm level with thanks to the Production Animal Vet.
Production animal vets are also integral in improving welfare standards. A contentious issue of late (particularly in Australia) is the live export of stock. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a favorite quote of mine by Mahatma Gandhi. I believe that Production Animal Vets can facilitate positive change in the world. We have the power to improve animal welfare by promoting best practice. We have the knowledge to improve animal husbandry at any level of the supply chain. We can advocate for the voiceless whilst sustaining trade and ensure productivity.
If all this interests you, there are many ways to get your foot in the door. I highly recommend that you gain an appreciation of the different industries e.g. beef, dairy, pork, and poultry. Follow some of the amazing Production Animal vets on social media especially on Instagram (shout out to some of the amazing and influential Production Vets e.g. @codycreelmancowvet, @macthevet @thedarkbadger @ru_cow @Ihotse09 @dr_do_little_doodle, @thecowdoc @robertorrego, @vet.krispy, @js_vet17 @drjcvet @hijabivet @themuttonmidwife and a lot more). Obtain work experience at your local vets or aim for placements in these industries to not only gain key experiences but also make connections.
So with all this being said, I hope you consider the amazing and influential field of Production Animal Medicine because I for one cannot wait to graduate.
Follow me on my journey to become a Production Animal Veterinarian: @chasingvetmed
- Frawley, Peter T. & Australia. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. & Australia. Department of Education, Science and Training. 2003, Review of rural veterinary services : report / reviewer: Peter T. Frawley of Agriculture,
- Veterinary Record. (2011) Vets and food security 168, 546.
- Hall G, Kirk MD, Becker N, et al. Estimating Foodborne Gastroenteritis, Australia. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2005;11(8):1257-1264. doi:10.3201/eid1108.041367. Fisheries & Forestry & Department of Education, Science and Training] [Canberra]