The Veterinarian’s Role in the Beef Industry
Rubber boots, green overalls and the ability to treat anything from a hamster to a cow may not be the images that come to mind when you think about the people who help produce beef, but veterinarians have long been working with farmers to put this protein on your plate.
"Veterinarians and beef farmers work together to keep the herd efficient and as profitable as possible," says Dr. Amy Robinson, member of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) and mixed animal veterinarian at Military Ridge Veterinary Service.
Through the changes the world has seen and undergone since the founding of the WVMA in 1915, this relationship has stayed the same while adjusting to modern times.
"I think the biggest changes are in communications and the herd health focus," says Dr. Robinson. "Veterinarians are now trained to think in terms of how each decision or challenge affects an entire population, which may be the home herd, the local cattle population or the state wide herd."
While beef farmers communicate with their veterinarian on a regular basis, the means of communication has changed to include cell phones, texts, picture messaging and email. Veterinarians cannot be there for every animal that goes into the chute and these new means of communications are helping farmers and veterinarians keep animals healthy.
"We have developed a means of bridging that gap by having a trusting veterinarian/client/patient relationship that can cover numerous miles in minutes," she says. "Many times, this leads to faster diagnosis and treatment followed by preventive measures being put in place."
On the farm isn't the only place you will find veterinarians, many find careers in the beef industry by becoming beef production specialists for universities, specialists in advanced reproductive technologies such as invitro fertilization or embryo transfer, for the government within the meat packing industry, or in other roles.
But no matter what career choice a veterinarian chooses, they all are tied to food safety.
"Veterinarians are involved with food safety every day," says Dr. Robinson. "It is because of the commitment of producers, packers and veterinarians that the U.S. beef supply is the safest in the world."
This commitment starts with the local youth when they first begin showing interest in the 4-H and FFA beef project. During the summer, this can be seen at county and state fairs across the country. Many veterinarians are supporting local youth by helping them in the beef project and can also be seen giving presentations on beef quality assurance, inspecting animals at fairs, or as leaders in the local 4-H club.
"Since a lot of the 4-H and FFA members who raise beef do so on a very small scale or on a hobby farm, this is our chance to focus on individual animal medicine," she says.
This relationship benefits both the veterinarian and the youth.
"It is very rewarding to see a young person become more confident in handling their livestock and caring for its health as both the project and the youth grow," she says.
By helping the youth of today, veterinarians are inspiring many to pursue careers in the beef industry and veterinary medicine, and Dr. Robinson doesn't see the veterinary field slowing down for the next generation.
"I think veterinarians will need to continue to specialize and be experts in fields," she says. "Each type of production is so advanced that it is difficult to stay knowledgeable in all areas."
However specialized veterinary medicine becomes in the future, she believes their main role will remain the same.
"The veterinarian's role will continue to be one of consultation and knowledge."