An open, well-established relationship with your veterinarian can pay off in herd health and profits.
Of the many business relationships a cattleman develops, perhaps none is more important than that with the veterinarian. When open communication and a mutual respect exists, the cattleman can benefit in the advice received, improved herd health, and ultimately, a more profitable operation.
John Feutz, DVM, has experience on both sides of the veterinary-cattleman relationship. He and his father, Jim, DVM, own Princeton Veterinary Hospital in Princeton, Ind. And John’s wife, Marybeth, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, also contributes to the business.
The immediate past president of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association,
Feutz began a cattle operation of his own as a 4-H project in youth. Today, he and Jim manage a 27-cow herd.
Of their veterinary practice’s beef-cattle clients, Feutz says, nearly all are producers with fewer than 100 head.
Feutz says he knows he has a good relationship with a producer when he can assess the situation within minutes of answering a phone call for assistance.
“When those producers call, I know the type of cows they have, along with their goals and facilities,” he says. “Some cattlemen have the ability to do some things on their own. Some need the vet to do certain procedures. If I’ve talked to them enough and we have a working relationship, I know immediately what needs to be done.”
Brad and Beth Dorsey manage a purebred Simmental operation in Dorsey, Ill. With their herd of about 35 cows, they focus on high-quality show stock for their clients, as well as for their three children, Drew, Claire and Jemma.
Brad says they value the strong relationship they have with their veterinarians.
“It’s so nice to be able to call, and they’ll know our operation and needs,” he says. “If we call about a cow calving, they know it’s not just because we’re worried — but that we need help quickly. They don’t mind when we call, and they genuinely care about us and our operation.”
Beth says utilizing a veterinarian’s services throughout the year can help build a bond that is beneficial when time is of the essence.
“I believe a veterinarian is more likely to pick up the phone and help when they know you’re a good customer trying to do the best job you can,” she says.
One way to maintain this relationship throughout the year is by calling on a veterinarian’s assistance on your vaccination protocol.
Value during vaccination
Of course, vaccines can be ordered through several online sources.
But, Feutz says, working with your veterinarian not only builds a relationship, it can also ensure you’re providing the most important and best vaccines for your area of the country and specific needs.
“Some diseases may be an issue out West but not in Indiana, or vice versa,” Feutz says. “Your veterinarian knows what problems are in your area and can tailor a vaccination protocol to your area.”
As well, he says, a veterinarian can tailor a protocol for your unique operation conditions.
“I have a good cow-calf producer who operates much like a dairy farm on a dry lot,” he says. “While most cow-calf operations are in grazing conditions, this producer could face problems with scours without the proper protocol in place, as the cattle aren’t as spread out. They have to be managed differently, and we can tailor the vaccinations and dewormers for his unique situation.”
Not only do veterinarians have experience with various vaccine brands, Feutz says, veterinarians are trained to understand the diseases and how the vaccines work to prevent those diseases.
“We can also then know which vaccinations will work best for your needs,” he says. “A vaccine may be labeled as effective, but it may not necessarily be the most effective. That’s where our training comes in. We understand the disease process and the likelihood of an animal to get that disease — and the best way to prevent it.”
The Dorseys follow a standard vaccination protocol that changes little from year to year. Beth works closely with their veterinarians to research new products and ideas, and consults them for adjustments or changes to the standard plan.
“We order all of our products through our veterinary practice, which can be done online and with free shipping and sometimes-reduced rates,” Beth says. “To us, our vaccination plan and health management is huge. We have to keep them healthy and packing on the weight. Some people think they can’t spend the money for the veterinarian in many cases. But it costs a lot to lose one, too.”
In order to have this valuable relationship, taking the time to research and locate the best veterinarian for your operation is essential.
Find the best
When determining the best veterinarian for your needs, Feutz says, many criteria should be considered.
Of course, proximity is important. As he says, when you’re dealing with a case of bloat, your cattle expert can’t be four hours away.
As well, a shared philosophy on cattle management and health is critical.
“We all have opinions, and you need someone you’re comfortable with — someone who can answer your questions and not be afraid to tell you if you’re missing something,” Feutz says. “The more comfortable you are with each other, the more likely you are to get the answers you need for your herd.”
Brad acknowledges that finding a quality large-animal veterinarian can be difficult in some areas of the country. And when locating the best one for your needs, a consideration of compatible personality is important.
“You have to be able to talk to them,” he says. “They have to respect you, and you have to respect them. If you don’t have that respect for them or vice versa, it’s going to be tough to make that late-night call for assistance.”
That shared respect can be fostered by respecting a few key concepts.
Common courtesy can go far when building a relationship with a veterinarian.
“The vet is not a cowboy,” Feutz says. “We need those cattle caught and in a facility that can handle them. I’m not saying that your vet won’t help chase them down in the pasture, but it takes time. And time is valuable.”
Brad couldn’t agree more.
“It’s my responsibility to have a good set up and a good facility,” he says. “I’m going to do my best to make sure the vet doesn’t get hurt. If you wouldn’t want to walk into the situation, don’t ask your vet to do it either. If they get hurt, they can’t work. That doesn’t work well for anyone.”
Respecting a veterinarian’s time and clear communication and planning also benefit both the producer and the veterinarian, Beth says.
“Our vets are 45 minutes away, and they’re already maxed with a wide range of area to cover,” she says. “We keep things on a schedule and don’t throw anyone for a loop. We do our fall work the day after Thanksgiving every year. Our veterinarians know it, and we know it. And we stick to it.”
She says getting to know the veterinary technicians and assistants is key to fostering a relationship with a veterinary practice.
“When I call our veterinary clinic, the technician who answers the phone knows me,” Beth says. “We have a good relationship, and she has my records. I believe that helps to get our needs met more quickly and efficiently.”
Ultimately, Beth says, the responsibility of scheduling and staying on top of your herd’s health lies with the producer.
“Consistency is critical, and you have to follow protocol year after year,” she says. “It takes a real effort on the breeder’s part to stay on top of their vaccination program. The vet won’t call and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to put me on the calendar.’”
Utilizing a veterinarian’s expertise and experience in this way can also help to develop the relationship needed during the middle-of-the-night emergencies, Feutz says.
“When a producer orders all vaccinations from a catalog and does all of his own castrations and dewormings without consulting a vet, and once every five years has a catastrophe on the farm needing emergency attention, it can be difficult,” Feutz says. “We need to have a relationship to be able to quickly assess and treat the problem.”
This quality relationship can also provide benefits in sometimes-unforeseen ways. The Dorseys’ 11-year-old daughter, Claire, has dreams of becoming a veterinarian someday.
“Once, our vets were out pulling a calf and were going to palpate the cow after delivery,” Brad recalls. “Claire happened to just be getting home from school and was still in her uniform, which happens to be a dress. They let Claire try her hand at palpating right then and there. We got a good laugh out of her palpating a cow in a dress. Obviously, the good relationship we have with our vets is good for our cows and good for our family.”
Brad says once you have located and built a relationship like this with a quality veterinarian, don’t take it for granted.
“There’s a lot of horror stories out there,” he says. “When you have a veterinarian who is working for you, appreciate what you have and be thankful for what you’ve got.”
When the relationship works, everyone benefits — the producer, the veterinarian, and of course, the cattle.
“Yes, we are a vet and you have to pay us when we come to our farm,” Feutz says. “But if we’re doing our job, you should be able to profit from our visit — from our advice and knowledge. Any time I’m on a farm, I’m thinking of how I can help the producer be profitable.”