Veterinarians know it is always beneficial for clients to have a good working relationship with their veterinarian. Convincing them is the challenge.
Dr. David Van Metre, an associate professor and Extension veterinarian at Colorado State University, says one selling point is to explain that many diseases of livestock are more successfully prevented than treated.
“If a serious health problem develops in a herd, something has already gone wrong,” he says. “Most veterinarians can serve as an important resource for helping clients figure out why certain diseases show up on their farm or ranch, and how management and environment can be changed to help prevent disease.
“Other ways veterinarians can be utilized in cow-calf operations include herd health programs like vaccination, deworming strategies, and to help clients design treatment protocols to ensure that appropriate medications are used for specific problems. It’s not always easy, however, to convince clients that they should use their veterinarian as a consultant for herd health rather than just calling if there’s a crisis.”
Dr. James England, a University of Idaho veterinarian, says this kind of relationship is a two-way street.
“Veterinarians generally need to be more proactive, contacting the rancher to offer help in looking at herd health programs rather than just waiting for emergency calls,” he suggests. “The dilemma for both sides is figuring out what this type of consultation is worth. Most veterinarians tend to have trouble charging for this service. Consequently, ranchers have a hard time thinking in terms of calling the veterinarian to just sit down and talk, and paying for it like a consultant.”
England tells this story: “When I first came here and visited five different ranches as a roper, most of those ranchers didn’t realize until the second day of branding that I was a veterinarian. Then they wanted to talk to me about their vaccination programs when we’d sit down to lunch. They knew I’d seen what they were doing on their ranch, and I’d talk to them about it. As soon as I’d get back from the branding, I’d call their veterinarian and mention the things I’d seen and list the things we talked about, and that I’d encouraged the rancher to talk to their vet. In most cases, however, their veterinarians hadn’t been back to the ranch to talk about the vaccine program in three or more years,” England says.
John Hall, Extension beef specialist for the University of Idaho, says he tells ranchers there are several advantages in having their veterinarian as a consultant and not just a firefighter.
“This gives the veterinarian a chance to help the producer look over the entire operation in terms of herd health,” he says. “Together, they can find weak areas and identify places for improvement. The veterinarian may suggest changes, and perhaps help the producer get connected with other professionals.”
For example, Hall says he commonly explains that it can help if the rancher and veterinarian get together with a nutritionist regarding the overall health program.
England adds, “Nothing that you do or suggest as a veterinarian is going to work very well unless the animals are adequately fed.”
Hall advises ranchers to sit down with their veterinarian once or twice a year and discuss any problems experienced that year, or ask questions about new vaccines, for example — to know which ones he or she should be using.
These men say the goal is to convince clients that by having you as a consultant, they can stay ahead of the game as conditions change through the years.
“You could talk about the most cost-effective and rational strategy for treating certain disease scenarios, and common things like retained placenta, mastitis, foot rot,” Van Metre says.
A client may manage his or her cattle in a certain way year in and year out with no problems — until something changes. “Maybe it was weather, maybe it’s more heifers in the herd, maybe more cattle congregating in a late-winter situation, and all of a sudden the rancher is faced with a calf scours outbreak they’ve never seen before,” he says.
“People tend to become accustomed to their own habits and routines. Ranching is no different. When ranching habits work well for a client year in and year out, it may be difficult for that client to critique what might have gone wrong,” Van Metre adds.
England adds that herd health management must be a strategic plan and the rancher needs to evaluate it every year, potentially saving money.
“It’s a moving target,” England says. “If you can sit down and talk with ranchers to tell them what’s available and what might be useful, your clients can almost always save money. They won’t be buying something they don’t need or that might be of questionable value,” he explains.
Many a decision is still made on farms and ranches because it’s something that worked or did not work for a neighbor, England says. Yet you can help your clients see the whole picture, and why the product or practice on their ranch may be different.
England continues, “When I talk about vaccines and health programs, I tell ranchers that we have more than 400 licensed products in use as vaccines. It’s no wonder there’s confusion about knowing what to choose. They all work, but some may be targeting different approaches. This is something you should talk about, and go through the whole herd history and management and vaccination timing. Is the client vaccinating at the best time, or doing it while branding, castrating and dehorning?”
Another thing that needs to be discussed with clients is a bio-security program. England says clients need to understand the gravity of such questions as these:
- Where do purchased animals come from?
- Are they keeping purchased animals separate from the main herd until they know they are free of disease?
- Do their cattle run on range with other ranchers’ cattle?
You may need help evaluating situations such as this: If your client is doing the maximum for herd health and someone else in the grazing association is doing the minimum, your client might be paying extra money for the extra vaccinations — but could save a lot more money in the long run. Your client needs to understand some of the diseases that could possibly brought in, and know the risks. A little money spent on consultation with a veterinarian might prevent a big wreck on down the road.”
Think about teaching
Van Metre stresses the need for veterinarians to be educators, able to explain and demonstrate health care procedures and diagnostics to producers.
“The vast majority of ranchers want to do a good job; they want to raise healthy animals and are willing to learn,” he says. “Our side of the obligation is to have the capacity to teach.”
He adds that the opportunity to teach can work both ways, saying some of the best tips on helping heifers with dystocia he learned from a rancher.
Be a friend
Dr. Mark Bramwell, one of four veterinarians at South Fork Veterinary Clinic in Rigby, Idaho, says trust and a good relationship with clients has helped the practice become more successful, as well as assuring the veterinary clinic’s success.
“If you have their trust, they will utilize your suggestions and advice,” he says.
“We’ve talked about minerals and the huge health benefits to cattle that are not mineral-deficient. In our region we have some severe mineral deficiencies, particularly copper and selenium. Having information that we proactively give them gets ranchers interested in coming in the door. Many ranchers come in to ask us what vaccines they should use, and we try to be available to answer their questions and give advice,” says Bramwell.
“Sometimes we’ll call our clients and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to sit down with you and discuss your herd health, and talk about which vaccines might work best for you this year.’ We like to have a sit-down with each individual client and discuss how they can be successful,” he says.
“It all comes down to trust. If they feel your clinic is the place where they can get good information, hopefully they will keep coming to you,” Bramwell adds.
He adds that keeping keep prices on medications competitive encourages clients to buy from them, and gives another contact point to know and work with a veterinarian.
Hall goes straight to the heart of the matter when he tells ranchers a veterinarian has to feed and clothe his or her family 365 days of the year, just like everyone else. He explains either the vet can charge a high fee every time a rancher has an emergency or the vet can earn a lesser fee and more consistent income by charging for expertise in certain areas, likely helping the rancher increase profit margin and possibly preventing those catastrophes, Hall says.
“If the rancher can save three calves, or get three more cows bred, he or she can afford that consultation. Putting the veterinarian into a partnership role can pay off for the producer,” he says.
“On the other hand, it’s hard for cattlemen to learn about health issues when the only opportunity is during an emergency, and it’s hard for a veterinarian to concentrate on anything beside ‘putting out the fire’ and dealing with the emergency,” he says.