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On the Edge of Common Sense: Veterinary medicine ain’t what it used to be

Baxter Black Published on 31 December 2014

Over the years, the number of large animal veterinarians has steadily declined. It is most evident in rural America and Canada. Many factors have contributed to this decline; the greatest is the change in the profession itself.

The cost of schooling is daunting. The severe decline of male students until they are only 20 percent of the enrollment. The low number of “farm kids” that are interested in vet school and the changing attitude of the graduates themselves.

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Back in the “good ol’ days,” a rural veterinarian was on call 24/7. His life was controlled by the phone. It was hectic: days off, vacations, meetings, birthday parties and church were always planned with the knowledge that Dad might not be there. These vets were what some would call dedicated, but most would recognize as workaholics.

The new generation wants to “have a life.” Family time, days off, no night calls and a decent wage are part of their plan.

All of these factors have combined to fuel the decline in the number of rural veterinarians. But there is another large factor that has always been discouraging to rural vets – that is the reluctance of farmers and ranchers to willingly pay the vet a “reasonable fee.”

Livestock have a calculable value expressed as per head or dollars per pound. With the exception of the occasional ranch horse, there is no anthropomorphological attachment as exists in the pet world.

This has always led the cowman to try and treat the animal himself. If the critter dies, it only evens out what the vet would charge … no loss. But in the last three years, things have changed.

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Droughts, herd depletion and demand for beef of all kinds have caused the value of cattle to soar. Business for rural veterinarians has picked up and continues to grow. Maybe there’s hope. But the good cowman is being backed into a corner.

He considers himself capable of pulling a calf or treating the scours, deciding what vaccine to use – at least he always has … he even did a Caesarian once … ’course, the cow was dead.

He’s a hard-workin’, stubborn, do-it-yerself, thrifty cowman, and it bothers him to ask for help, especially if it costs money. It goes against his cowboy mentality. What are the odds?

“Harold, she’s been tryin’ to calve since noon. He’s worth $500 when he hits the ground. It’s time. Unhook those chains and put down the come-along.”

“But…”

“Call Doc Smith.”

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“But…but…what if he charges mileage?” PD

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