Wednesday, July 6, 2022

New wave of vet advisers

A new programme designed to get vets working proactively with farmers to raise productivity should pay big dividends for the sheep and beef sector. Beef + Lamb NZ chair Mike Petersen is welcoming the launch this autumn of the Zoetis Vet Adviser Series. The series is aimed at developing the skills of younger vets so they can help advise farmers wanting to boost farm profitability, and has the support of Beef + Lamb NZ, the NZ Veterinary Association, and Massey University veterinary school.

Aimed at vets in sheep and beef practices, the series of four two-day modules will link vets’ deep knowledge of animal health to a better understanding of whole farm production and profitability.

The series has been created and sponsored by Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health) and covers all aspects of farm business, genetics and animal production, presented by some leading names in the New Zealand sheep and beef industry.

VetFocus Otorohanga vet Danielle Hawkins, front, with Zoetis veterinary adviser Victoria Chapman at the Massey University stage of the vet consulting course.

“At this year’s sheep veterinary congress I urged vets to get closer to their farmer clients’ business, understand the whole farm picture, and take their huge knowledge of animal health and get best practice adopted more widely across more farms,” Petersen said.

While vets often end up being the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”, Petersen wants vets involved in decisions that mean the ambulance will not be needed. That means having the skills and confidence to discuss farm production and outcomes around the table with other experts farmers increasingly rely on, including farm advisers and bankers.

Petersen has himself made a point of including a vet as a consultant on farms he is involved in, linking in their expertise with that of the farm banker and adviser, tying animal health to the health of the farm business.

Manawatu production vet Ginny Dodunski, of Totally Vets in Fielding, said the course offered the opportunity for vets to be involved in injecting positive, profitable change into their clients’ farm business.

“Often for sheep and beef farmers the opportunities at present can be limited to tinkering around the edges of animal health, compared to dairying, where major profit shifts can come by improving animal health aspects like mastitis.”

She saw the real benefits to sheep and beef farmers coming by vets understanding feed systems, which are inherently linked to animal health and production.

She believes young vets would welcome the opportunity to have a series of practical modules linking farm business and animal health. The series covers farm business, genetics, animal production and consulting skills and runs in four modules from April through to August, finishing in Queenstown.

Mike Petersen sees the programme fitting well with the objectives of the Red Meat Sector Strategy report. Released in 2011, it emphasises the need for farmers to lift “behind the gate” performance on farms, through better uptake of improved genetics, business skills and practices.

“Even lifting the ‘average’ farmer’s performance into the top 20% would lift that farm’s profitability by 134%,” he said.

Input to the programme has come from some of the most experienced, respected animal production experts in NZ. They include Professor Paul Kenyon of Massey University, and Zoetis’ own veterinary adviser and well-known sheep production expert, Dr Clive Bingham.

Kenyon sees the programme as an opportunity to “train the trainers”, taking advantage of the unique one-to-one relationship vets often share with their farming clients.

“Vets are already in a trusted position, and are able to bring more information to their farmers who are struggling to keep up with the huge amount of information out there now.”

– Supplied

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