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A tale of two consultants – how this nutritionist and veterinarian pair work together

Gene Boomer Published on 21 September 2009

As a veterinarian who now works in the field of nutrition, I have witnessed how critical veterinarians and nutritionists are as resources for the dairy producer. Their advice and insight work synergistically to keep cows healthy and productive throughout their life cycles.

It’s critical that these two consultants work closely together toward the same goals for your dairy’s success.

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For nutritionist Dr. Greg Bethard of G&R Consulting based in Wytheville, Virginia, and veterinarian Dr. Joe Gillespie of Gillespie Veterinary Service based in McCook, Nebraska, the key to successfully working together has been their ability to put the dairy’s needs first.

Understanding this results in the best outcome for their dairy clients. Bethard and Gillespie have worked together for multiple dairy clients over the past 10 years and use one another as an ally – rather than an opponent – for success on the dairy.

Solving problems in tandem
Bethard and Gillespie both share examples of how they have worked together to make the appropriate adjustments to ration and herd health protocols based on one another’s observations on the dairy and their individual expertise.

In one instance, Gillespie called Bethard to share that the first-lactation animals in the breeding pen looked thin and weren’t cycling or showing good heats. From Gillespie’s observation, Bethard added a high-quality commercial bypass fat to the diet which improved heifer reproductive performance within a two-month time span.

Another time, Bethard called Gillespie to report a rise in fresh cow health problems. The team pulled blood samples to check calcium and magnesium levels.

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The blood samples showed the levels were too low, which led to the addition of magnesium oxide in the diet. The fresh cow problems soon disappeared due to their communications and collaborative efforts.

For the most part, the team agrees that they find themselves working together most often on transition cow challenges – issues experienced in the close-up and fresh pens. Since these animals represent both the greatest opportunity and the greatest liability for the dairy, paying close attention to their performance is critical for future milking string success.

One important factor leading to their relationship success has been for each consultant to stick to his area of expertise, says Bethard. Rather than telling one another what to do and how to do it, they stick to reporting the facts, allowing the other to make the appropriate adjustments or recommendations.

In some cases, explains Bethard, when one consultant tells another how to do his/her job, it often comes across as finger-pointing, which can be detrimental to their relationship and to success on the dairy.

A team in two time zones
What may be most interesting about this nutritionist and veterinarian pair is they live more than 1,200 miles apart. One advantage to this, shares Gillespie, is that they each can identify changes by different avenues.

For example, Gillespie may be at the farm once a week for veterinary checks, while Bethard visits the dairy once a month to revisit the prescribed ration and evaluate feed quality. Gillespie is able to keep an eye on changes in numbers from week to week to identify trends, while Bethard’s perspective identifies greater change over time that may be hard to recognize on a weekly basis.

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Two sets of eyes help identify more challenges and opportunities than one person could recognize alone, comments Gillespie. To keep each other informed, the pair talk often and get together face-to-face when possible.

For one of their dairies, they hold monthly “management team” conference calls with the owner and herd manager to discuss changes on the dairy and provide their expertise on any new challenges. Also, the pair shares communications with one another – including letters and e-mails – that they have sent to the dairy, so the other knows exactly what his counterpart is recommending.

Working toward a common goal
From Bethard’s and Gillespie’s experiences, it’s easy to understand how valuable the relationship between a nutritionist and veterinarian is for your dairy’s success. Here are a few tips to ensure your nutritionist and veterinarian are working together for the benefit of your herd:

Take a team approach
Bethard stresses the importance for everyone to work towards the same goal – success of the dairy. Rather than pointing fingers or placing blame when problems arise, it’s more beneficial for everyone to work together to solve the problem.

Communicate regularly
To best work together, Gillespie comments just how important regular communication is with the other person. When lines of communication break down, potential opportunities can get missed; the ones that suffer most when these communication gaps occur are the cows.

Build credibility with one another
Bethard and Gillespie have worked together for over a decade, which has allowed the pair to build a relationship on respect and credibility, explains Gillespie. By building this foundation, consultants are more apt to listen to each other’s concerns and make integrated recommendations to overcome challenges.

Expect the best
Bethard notes that dairy producers should expect their consultants – including their herd veterinarian and nutritionist – to work together since they are paying for their services. Their joint efforts are critical for the best nutrition and health protocols for the herd.

Bethard and Gillespie exemplify what it means to work as a part of an integrated team. Rather than taking offense at what the other is saying, the pair has worked in tandem to implement change as needed while being solely focused on what is best for the dairy.

Facilitate this relationship to ensure your nutritionist and veterinarian pair provides the same opportunities within your operation so cows can remain healthy and productive through all stages of life. PD

Gene Boomer
Field Technical Services Manager
Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

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