It’s a New Year – a time to take a good look at your production system, its assets and its needs.

One of any operation’s best assets is its veterinarian. Dr. Fred Gingrich, executive director of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), says there are 3 Questions every producer should ask their veterinary partner as they begin the New Year.

1 – How can I improve my antimicrobial stewardship?

“It’s a hot topic right now,” says Gingrich, “and one place to look at use and possible change. Do you have protocols still in use that have not recently been evaluated?”

There are economics to consider of course. Is antimicrobial use worth the cost? Or is there greater cost to animal health in not using them? New information is coming online all the time, and the emphasis on animal health and welfare is as important as ever.

2 – In what big area can I improve animal welfare?

“There are many aspects here to look at,” says Gingrich. “For example, for feedlots, what are your castration and pain management protocols?”

How do you handle heat stress, or lameness? “Is there opportunity in your operation to improve those areas?”

Gingrich says how a producer handles the sick pen, or animals in chronic pain, may need to be evaluated.

“Ask yourself, if an outsider drove through, what would be their impression?” he says. “What would they see? Do your protocols give opportunity for timely euthanasia of animals you know are not salvageable when that might be better for them?”

3 – Is it time to review protocols that may have been in place for many years?

“From vaccination and implant schedules to processing procedures, you may have done things the same way for years,” says Gingrich. “Or, in some cases, no one is really following the written protocols and no one really notices.”

Or maybe staff have changed a protocol without the veterinarian knowing. “When you make changes, you need to bring the veterinarian into the conversation. Same with an active review,” says Gingrich. AABP works to provide continuing education to veterinarians through in person training, webinars, and publications, ensuring they have the latest scientific information and skills to meet producers’ needs.

“If a veterinarian is doing things the same way for 30 years, they’re not serving their clients,” he adds. “Any business needs to evaluate, change, improve, adapt. Never be afraid to ask your veterinarian, ‘What new thing have you learned today, Doc?’”

3 Things Not to Do

Gingrich also offers 3 things every beef producer should NOT do, in 2021 or any other year.

1 – Don’t inject anything into the animal that doesn’t follow Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines.

“That sounds obvious, but warrants a reminder,” he says. “Most food animal producers are very aware they are creating a food product and are appropriately cautious.”

2 – Don’t use drugs without veterinary direction.

Veterinary oversight of all medications used is an important part of antimicrobial stewardship, and there are now fed-eral statutes in place.

3 – Never give anything in a dose or frequency that is not on the product label unless directed by your veterinarian or in a protocol from the veterinarian.

“Your protocols should specify when and how a medication needs to be prescribed, and protocols should not be adjusted without veterinarian input,” says Gingrich. “It’s easy to hear from another producer that something works and want to try it yourself. But your veterinarian needs to be aware and have input before you do. It could have an adverse effect on your animals, and your veterinarian is the ideal resource in adjusting protocols.”

Gingrich says you should never be afraid to ask your veterinarian any question. “They are a source of unbiased information, and you are paying for their expertise. They are there to help their client by giving good advice on protocols, and animal health and welfare. With open communication at all times, both parties will improve.”

Keeping your veterinarian around

Gingrich adds there are things every producer can do to make sure their veterinarian continues to be a valuable partner in their operation and their community.

“For years we’ve heard there is a shortage of veterinarians,” says Gingrich. “But what we really have is shortage areas. It’s a distribution problem. There are areas of rural America that can’t support a veterinarian.”

He says replacing retiring veterinarians with new, young ones that can generate enough income to maintain a house-hold and a practice is a two-way street. Studies have shown communities with a strong ag business base are better able to support a veterinary practice.

That means, as much as possible in your ag operation, shop local.

“You can directly support your veterinarian with your business,” says Gingrich. “Utilize their services for herd work, like production medicine and preventative health, and not just for emergencies. If that doesn’t happen, he or she might not be there when needed.”

As older veterinarians retire, bringing someone new into the practice can be a challenge for producers. Gingrich says food animal production is about relationships. “It can take time to build trust, but that trust is hard to break once it is there.” Likewise with interns learning the ropes.

“New young veterinarians can be a real asset because they tend to be enthusiastic and sincerely want to help,” he says. “They also have the latest scientific and technological knowledge. Producers just need to remember experience comes with time, and the experienced veterinary partner will not put them in situations they are not yet prepared for. They don’t want them to fail.”

As a beef producer, your veterinarian can be your greatest asset – a partner with a wealth of knowledge and a vested interest in the success of your operation. Don’t be shy about including him in all of your animal health and welfare decisions in 2021 and beyond.