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0909 PD: Take your vet to lunch to maximize your relationship

Amanda Van Blarcom Published on 05 June 2009
I interact with dairy producers and veterinarians every day.

I have seen several ways to maximize the communication between the producer and the veterinarian. Through this role, I have had the amazing opportunity to watch the two speak, shake hands, work together, argue and sometimes even avoid each other.

As a dairy producer, you have a certain expectation as to what the role of the veterinarian should be. Since every producer is different, that expectation varies considerably. With this in mind, think about how you can better utilize the skills and expertise of your vet to improve profitability. What role does your veterinarian play in your business today?

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Veterinarian: Partner or practitioner?
You are already familiar with the veterinarian’s traditional skill set: reproductive exams, surgery, obstetrics, medical diagnosis, vaccination program design, treatment protocols and a myriad of other services. Yet, the veterinarian can serve his or her role in a variety of shapes and sizes, above and beyond the technical standard. I have broken them down into two basic roles. First, the most integral role is a partner in the decision-making process. Second, and perhaps the least involved, is the role of the technical person providing a service on your dairy.

Where does your dairy’s vet fit into this spectrum? Some dairy producers see their veterinarian as a partner, a friend and a cohort through the daily business demands. That vet is a part of every decision on the dairy, serving as a sounding board for ideas and, at times, offering the best solution to a problem. In this role, the veterinarian is acting as a technical adviser, a creative thinker and a consultant for the dairy.

Other dairy producers might have the partner role filled by another person in the business. In this case, the veterinarian serves as the technical expert providing a service. The vet may rarely interact with the owner but provides some or most of the services needed. He or she is an important part of the operation, but holds a completely different relationship with the owner. In this role, the veterinarian can also provide tremendous value to the herdsman, acting as an educator and a resource for someone with varying experience levels.

The challenges
In either situation, the biggest challenge between the dairy producer and the veterinarian is communication. The respect and kindness that may come with a partner relationship could pose a problem with telling the truth when in disagreement. The friendship may not allow for the candidness required in a business environment. The communication could also work the other way, and be so negative that no one wants to share future ideas. This could lead to very little sharing and feedback, allowing no room for either of them to grow in their respective roles.

When the vet is serving in the technical role, most dairy producers believe little communication is necessary. Consequently, what if your veterinarian notices this week’s load of sand bedding was sopping wet going into the stalls and you did not get the message? The producer has missed an opportunity for the vet to provide the small but critical value of another set of eyes and ears. There is tremendous opportunity for improvement in communication while maintaining the veterinarian’s technical role.

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The opportunities
Dr. Michael Capel, with Perry Veterinary Clinic in Perry, New York, works with several herds of all sizes. I asked him, “How can a dairy producer improve his relationship with his vet?” He puts it very nicely, “Set the expectations when you begin the relationship. Be clear, concise, and share your thoughts.” This especially applies to the dairy producer in the partner-role relationship with the dairy’s veterinarian.

As a veterinarian with several clients, Capel plays both roles depending on the dairy producer’s needs. Regardless of the role he has taken, Capel asks each of his clients to lunch or a meeting at the start of their relationship in order to set expectations early. In this meeting, the dairy producer and the vet have an opportunity to define the role of the veterinarian. He also asks many of his clients to provide a performance review once a year. In this review, they are able to sit down, face to face, and ask for feedback and for improvement. At this point, the dairy producer can redefine the role of the veterinarian, if needed, although Capel cautions, “This can be difficult to do.”

Capel also explains that a veterinarian serving in the technical role should request a direct line of communication to the owner. It might be through the herdsman or manager, but there should be a reliable method of communication established. This way, if he or she sees something alarming, concerning or a great achievement by one of your employees, the producers is immediately notified. Remember, most veterinarians work with several herds and see all sorts of products, management styles and different ideas.

What can I do?
Now, what role would you like your veterinarian to have on your dairy? Whether you consider the vet your best resource in decision-making or the best technical person to pregnancy check your animals, communication plays a vital role in your success with this relationship. Think about what areas of expertise they might be able to provide. And if you don’t know, take the time to ask. You might have your very own facility design expert in your own barn!

Consider doing the following things to improve your relationship with your vet.

• Clarify what you want your veterinarian’s role to be.

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• Communicate that definition and your expectations to your vet.

• Utilize your vet to educate and grow your less experienced people.

• Ask him or her to participate on a profit team or management team for the business.

• Integrate him or her with your parlor procedures and milkers.

• Ask about your vet’s interests and areas of expertise and ask him or her to contribute if you find a match!

• Talk, ask questions and communicate. The more communication, the better.

• Remember to evaluate and gain feedback regularly.

Take some time to evaluate your relationship. Decide what you would like to gain from the relationship; then share your ideas with your veterinarian. Establish a direct line of communication and set expectations early in order to make communicating down the road much easier.

Get started now. Take your vet to lunch! PD

Amanda Van Blarcom
Sales Representative
Elanco Animal Health

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