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Are you maximizing the expertise of your veterinarian?

Norm Stewart Published on 08 June 2010

We all understand the value of maximizing our time and resources, and that includes the people in our lives. Friends and family members are quick to lend a helping hand and make our lives easier, but do you ever ask your veterinarian for more help?

Your veterinarian certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but their experience, knowledge and network of contacts are resources that can positively impact your operation and employees.

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The most important message I want to share is to think more broadly when it comes to working with your veterinarian. Many times the knowledge, expertise and problem-solving abilities of your veterinarian are not utilized to their fullest potential.

If you are experiencing a challenge on your dairy, and haven’t done so yet, talk to your veterinarian about it. Share insights about your dairy beyond just animal health issues. Many times these issues are inter-related and sharing them will help your veterinarian prevent and diagnose a problem sooner and more effectively. The more you communicate with your veterinarian, the more successful your dairy can be.

One of the ways you can share additional information with your veterinarian and add value to your operation is in the area of record-keeping. Consider the following types of records to evaluate routinely with your veterinarian: vaccination, reproduction, antibiotic treatment usage and success, animal health, and production information.

A records review meeting should be held every two to four weeks, or more frequently as necessary. These records contain a wealth of information that can help you and your veterinarian make informed decisions that will benefit your animals and your operation.

Reducing risks
Prevention is the name of the game, and there are a number of ways to work with your veterinarian to not only mitigate risk, but to maximize production, provide a safe, high-quality product and have a positive impact on welfare and well-being. Veterinarians know you are going to be challenged in your day-to-day operations and occasionally suffer unexpected losses or hardships; however, he or she still wants to help you to minimize risks and avoid catastrophes.

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There are ways to minimize risks in all areas of your operation. The first one that comes to mind is having an effective vaccination program to control and prevent diseases. Compliance is another important area to consider in mitigating risk. Consistency in administering products and breeding animals at the correct time is critical to the success of your dairy and can be a hidden source of challenge.

Maintaining proper milking machine function and following associated milking, housing and bedding procedures will keep your cows healthy and producing safe, high-quality milk. Farmers have always been committed to the environment, but today it’s even more critical to have a sound environmental program on the dairy. There is no room for error in today’s landscape. Talk to your veterinarian about ways you can mitigate these and other risks on your operation.

Standard operating procedures should be standard
Wouldn’t you agree that consistency is important on many levels when it comes to managing your dairy? The best way to ensure consistency is to define protocols, through standard operating procedures (SOPs), for various management areas and to communicate them to your employees. As a result of better employee communication, SOP development and training will increase employee success and satisfaction, which benefits everyone.

Your veterinarian will be a great resource in not only writing the procedures but also helping to train your employees. If you don’t already have written plans, I encourage you to make it a goal to work with your veterinarian to develop them this year. The SOPs should be reviewed annually or when a change in protocol is required.

Some of the key areas where SOPs will prove valuable to you, your employees and your operation include:

• Colostrum management

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• Disease prevention, identification and treatment

• Environmental management

• Fly and parasite control

• Heat detection and reproduction

• Housing and facilities

• Milking procedures

• Nutrition and feeding

• Vaccination protocols

Taking the time to train your employees on what to do and why it needs to be done this way is another great way you and your veterinarian can positively impact your operation and workers. This gives you, your veterinarian and employees the opportunity to have dialogue on ways to improve your procedures.

Each employee will undoubtedly have certain strengths, so you can use their skill set as part of a “train the trainer” approach. This will provide employees the opportunity to train new and existing employees on certain jobs, as well as increase their value and contributions to the operation.

Diagnosing the problem
A dead animal can be one of the most valuable animals on your operation. When an animal dies on your operation, you need to find out why. The information gleaned from a necropsy and supportive diagnostics can help identify an initial or ongoing disease process that could potentially impact the rest of your herd. So work with your veterinarian to set up parameters for when you need to contact them to perform a necropsy or take an animal to the diagnostic laboratory to be necropsied.

Utilizing standardized diagnostic kits for scours, mastitis and other infectious diseases is another way to gather helpful information that you and your veterinarian can learn from to improve your herd’s overall health. Review the necropsy, culture and sensitivity and other test results with your veterinarian, so you know what agents are affecting your herd. This will provide you and your veterinarian information that can be utilized to treat ongoing outbreaks and prevent/control future ones, thereby getting a return on investment from the unfortunate death of an animal.

A team approach
While you and your veterinarian make a great team, getting input from others is a great way to make sure you are on the right path towards continued success. An excellent way to bring in outside expertise to evaluate ongoing operations and future plans is through an advisory board. It will be one of the best uses of your time, while being one of the least expensive and most rewarding experiences in your business plan.

Work with your veterinarian to put together a team of qualified advisers to meet on a regular basis, at least quarterly, throughout the year, to address operational and strategic topics. In addition to your veterinarian, your advisory board could consist of designated individuals from the following areas of expertise – nutrition, reproduction, housing, finance, milk quality and milking equipment. This team of people will add a new level of communication, evaluation and planning to your farm business that could result in new levels of success, profitability and worker satisfaction.

Your veterinarian is likely an untapped resource for your business. They have knowledge, experience and problem-solving skills you may not be utilizing. Give them the opportunity to see your operation from a new perspective. There are always areas to improve upon, and little changes can make a big difference. Your veterinarian could likely be the catalyst in finding new ways to increase the achievements, contributions and financial well-being of your operation. PD

Norm Stewart

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