Educating vets to boost production

By Bill Bennett

Rural vets will soon play an important role boosting productivity for sheep and beef meat farmers, writes Bill Bennett

Zoetis is leading a vet education programme aimed at allowing them to become more general farm advisers.
Zoetis is leading a vet education programme aimed at allowing them to become more general farm advisers.

A new education programme from Zoetis, formerly Pfizer Animal Health, gives younger vets the skills they need to be more broadly relevant to farmers.

Victoria Chapman, vet ops manager at Zoetis says vets already play a larger role in dairy farming. She wants to see this extend to sheep and beef meat farming where vets could hold the key to untapped productivity gains - especially in areas such as genetics.

Chapman says vets spend more time with dairy farmers because of the high livestock investment in that sector. A dairy cow might be worth a few thousand dollars, so paying for regular vet treatments protects a valuable asset.

On the dairy farm, a vet may see potential problems before they occur and intervene. It means more business for a vet and better returns for the farmer. Dairy farmers are used to seeing significant profit increases from veterinary intervention.

Though sheep and beef farmers have high levels of trust in vets, the level of vet input is much lower at present.

"These farmers don't get to see vets often, maybe once or twice a year during lambing," says Chapman. "For them vets are often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, they get called in after there's a problem. However there's a lot vets can offer to help farmers get more out of their flocks and herds. And that will help overall farm performance".

And as a by-product, she says this more active approach should mean there will be less need for the ambulance.

Zoetis' goal is to give vets the skills and confidence allowing them to become more general farm advisors or consultants. Chapman says there is an unmet demand for sheep and beef consultants in New Zealand - only a handful of people are doing this work at present.

The course is divided into four modules which take each place over two days and there is homework for the vets. The first module is an overview of farm business and includes units such as financial management and how to read a set of farm accounts.

Later modules look at animal production and genetics - there's an emphasis on making vets the first-stop professional advisors on genetic matters. The last module is on how to operate a consultancy business.

Zoetis' Vet Advisor Series has the support of Beef + Lamb NZ, the NZ Veterinary Associations and Massey University's vet school. Some of the leading names in the industry will be presenting sessions during the training programme include Rabobank, AgResearch and Agricom.

Chapman says some organisations and individuals have given their time for free.

Although New Zealand is a world leader in farm productivity, there's considerable potential for lifting sheep and beef still further. In its 2011 Red Meat Sector Strategy document, Beef + Lamb New Zealand says it aims to lift the export value to NZ$14 billion by 2025 partly by supporting "a culture of innovation from behind the farm gate through to the market". Genetics is identified as having huge potential to boost productivity.

Chapman says Zoetis is behind the programme because it recognises a need for leadership. "No-one else is doing this kind of work."

It also strengthen ties between the company - which sells vaccines and animal medicine - and vets.

She says: "We're not just about selling products. We are strongly aligned with vets. If we train them, their businesses will grow and our business will grow with them".

- NZ Herald

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