How to Work with Your Veterinarian

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We’ve all heard this ad nauseam, but it is especially true of bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Once we are behind the eight ball, “a pound of cure” often isn’t enough. That is why working with your veterinarian is so important.

New animal health protocols are developed and tested every day regarding how to manage BRD. Management practices to reduce stress and overall health issues are changing, too. Producers try to stay up to date, but like any skilled professional, a veterinarian’s job is to be the expert in an ever-changing industry. Enlisting their expertise is worth every moment and every penny.

A veterinarian’s most valuable role is advisor, helping to prevent issues before they start. If producers only call when they have a problem, they’re not getting that ounce of prevention. Before processing or during the arrival of new calves are great opportunities to schedule time with your veterinarian to come on-site to evaluate facilities and practices and review overall herd health. However, an on-site visit has value at any time and it doesn’t have to take long. Let your veterinarian know the highlights and ask questions. A few minutes of consultation could save hours of diagnosis and treatment.

Once a problem has begun, the diagnostic toolset of a veterinarian is extremely valuable. Producers that choose not to use it may be wasting time and money. For example, a producer I work with once had some ranch-raised calves start falling apart in the weaning pen. The rancher, my assistant and I observed the cattle closely, but no obvious cause appeared. These calves were well managed and had been worked every which way but loose, but all we could see were sick calves everywhere.

To gain insight, we had to go beyond what our eyes could see. We began taking samples of water, feed, feces, etc. While the fecal material appeared normal, flotation and concentration tests revealed coccidia oocysts. Less than two hours after the call, we had a diagnosis. Medication was added to the water tank, the worst calves were treated with antibiotics and the pneumonia outbreak stopped abruptly with no death loss.

The moral to this story is what appears to be one kind of problem may only be a symptom of something totally different. Sub-clinical coccidiosis is one of those conditions that can fool you without the full set of diagnostic skills and resources provided by a veterinarian. However you work with your veterinarian, they are there to help you be successful with their value going well beyond treating sick cattle.

How does your veterinarian help you avoid trouble before it happens? Is refining your health plan something you catch up on periodically, or is it more of an ongoing conversation?

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