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“If someone brings you a dragon, a Martian or Bigfoot, you will be expected to provide care, protect public health and guard against any threat they may present to our food supply. My job is to give you the tools you need to figure it out.” So began my veterinary education …
Veterinarians come with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, but we all share a similar core education. The concept of ‘One Health’ (see box) reminds veterinary students that human, animal and environmental health are intertwined, though medical science and clinical skills are taught using just a few standard species and systems.
A working relationship
Students are introduced to livestock production, nutrition and farm economics. Many programs incorporate courses on animal behavior and a few now offer elective classes addressing ecosystem health or sustainability. Aspiring Doctors of Veterinary Medicine—or DVMs—are asked to consider their role in animal welfare, though they may or may not have much exposure to animal welfare science. And while some groups are working to improve veterinary training in alternative medicine and sustainable agriculture, few programs currently offer continuing education credits for these topics.
So if your vet sometimes looks at you as though you’re a Martian, it may be because your farm doesn’t match that ‘core model’ taught in school. But that need not hinder a great working relationship. Though practices may differ, most vets have a great deal to offer if you’re willing to help your vet understand what you do—and what you need.
How can your vet help?
Regardless of specific experience or practice style, your local vet is well equipped to help with these vital aids to your livestock operation:
A two-way street
Depending on specific interests and experience, your vet may be able to provide useful input for any number of situations. For example, they might offer nutrition advice to meet demand for ‘soy-free’ eggs or assist in planning an on-farm trial to see if a homeopathic or herbal remedy helps resolve a persistent health issue on your farm. Fruitful collaboration is most likely to emerge if you follow these guidelines:
Whole-farm health is a community endeavor. Your veterinarian can provide invaluable assistance to protect animal health and product safety and may be able to help address other complex problems such as environmental or human health impacts. For specialized treatments, a collaborative approach may be best. With communication and perhaps some negotiation, your veterinarian can play a significant role in fulfilling your goals for a robust, resilient agro-ecosystem that safeguards animal health and welfare.
Jennifer L. Burton DVM is a veterinarian and educator with a special interest in the intersection of food animal medicine and public health