The Vet Space Journal

Farm Animal Essentials

Isabel Coen MVB MRCVS | July 8th, 2020

Hey guys! Congrats to those of you that have recently graduated and also those who have survived the first few months/year of being a vet! I remember saying to myself when I first qualified, “I can’t wait to be 5 years out” – I’m there now and couldn’t be happier with the career path I have chosen (however not sure why I was so fixated on the 5 years?).

If you are making plans to start working soon and wondering what kind of job you should look for, I would strongly advise giving mixed practice a go for your first job. Even though you may have your heart set on a 100% farm animal job it is worth giving yourself a chance to see what you enjoy doing. Be open minded and give everything a try. You never know…. You might really enjoy your day of small animal surgery after a full day of testing! Veterinary is a tough career at the best of times and therefore, it is really important that you take time to establish what you are happiest working at, even if its not what you had planned when you graduated!

The main factors I took into consideration when searching for my first job included:

  • Location
  • Ratio of Farm animal/small animal work
  • Rota
  • Support/ Mentorship
  • Clinic facilities/equipment
  • Holidays/Time off in lieu of weekends on call
  • CPD

Job location is really important when you’re starting off in practice. Being close to family/friends and other classmates that are going through similar situations can be very helpful when navigating the first few months and even years of the job.

Clinic facilities and equipment was another important consideration for me. If you have a particular interest in something such as scanning or herd health for example, make sure to enquire about these services/facilities. You need to make sure that you are giving yourself the best opportunity to advance your skillset. Support and mentorship ties in strongly with this point. Ask yourself – are there people you can learn from in this clinic and also, do they have time to show/teach me? Knowing you have good support goes a long way in easing the stress of those first few nights/weekends on call.

So what do you need for your first day on the job as a farm animal vet?

Every vet will have a different list of car essentials and a different way of kitting out their vehicle. One of the most important things I have in my jeep is a really good strong halter rope. I acquired this from one of our clients – a Charolais breeder- he gifted it to me after a section I did and I want to say it’s the best present I ever got!! Personally, I am not a big fan of nose tongs and when trying to do anything with cattle appropriate restraint is key. When starting out you must try and set yourself up for success. Trying to give an IV injection to a cow that’s throwing her head around isn’t going to go well for anyone no matter how long they are qualified.

The second bit of kit I always have with me is a box “for essentials” – this contains:

  • Thermometers,
  • Stethoscope
  • 12 and 14G Catheters
  • Pen Knife
  • Scissors
  • Blood ketone meter
  • 5, 10, 20 and 30ml syringes
  • 14, 16 and 18G Needles
  • Few rectal gloves
  • Scalpel blades
  • Suture material (for stitching in catheters)
  • Selection of anti-inflam./antibiotics

It seems like a lot to carry with you but I fit everything into a large toolbox. I used to hate walking back and forth to the jeep as I kept forgetting the same few bits. It also allowed me to establish a routine approach to examining an animal – try and get into the habit of doing the same thing in the same order and check EVERYTHING. Farmers really appreciate a vet that takes their time and does a proper clinical exam. If you develop a routine to doing your clinical exam then even when you’re under time pressure and in a rush you won’t miss something like E.coli mastitis in a down cow that you are treating for milk fever.

Other bits and bobs I would recommend having in the car include: spare clothes, an extra pair of waterproof coveralls and jacket, baby wipes and two good headlights (I recently got a cheetah headlight and its fantastic). I would also advise some good podcasts and playlists including a “middle of the night section” playlist to wake you up on your drive out to the farm!

As mentioned previously, make sure the job you chose allows you the opportunity to advance in an area of farm animal medicine that you are particularly interested in. I have always loved fertility work and scanning cows. This is really a numbers game – the more you scan the better you get and with the seasonality of the work in Ireland that can be a bit tricky. I always advise people to start by getting comfortable handling cows. When doing a clinical exam, I always include a rectal exam and it is at this stage you can practice catching the cervix and finding ovaries and checking for pregnancy status. When starting off with the scanner don’t dive into scanning 50 cows in one go…. Start with the smaller numbers and take your time. I used to always feel pressure to scan really quickly but at the end of the day it’s far more important you do the job accurately. In terms of foetal ageing, I found the BCF tables on the website extremely helpful. Some clinics may also have the BCF bluetooth screen, which you could take along if a more experienced colleague is scanning and that way you get familiar with looking at foetal images.

Calf Head Snare

On call/night work is definitely one of the more stressful parts of the job when you’re starting off. Before your first night on call make sure you have your vehicle well stocked – you have your box “for essentials”, another with your section kit, suture material and local anaesthetic, calving jack plus ropes. Always have a decent head rope for calvings – I recently started using a calf head snare and its brilliant. Make sure your clippers are well charged and you have an extra pair of blades too! I also carry various lengths of rope for casting cows (for rolling a twisted calf bed).

Farm animal veterinary can be so unpredictable and, when your starting out, this aspect of the job can bring a lot of mixed emotions. All you can do is be prepared and organized so that whatever comes your way you have the equipment and medication to deal with it.

My final piece of advice is with regards to communication with farmers. Even though you might be run off your feet with calls it is really important to listen to the farmer and the history of the animal you are examining. Be honest about what you think is going on and never be afraid to seek a second opinion. If you are particularly worried about an animal you have seen, check in with the farmer the next day. This is something they really appreciate and helps to build a good vet-client relationship.

The next few months will be a steep learning curve and at times, may feel over whelming. Don’t measure your success by the number of animals you save. As long as you do your best for an animal that is all you can expect from yourself. Best of luck!

Isabel graduated from University College Dublin in 2015. Following a brief period in mixed practice in Ireland she travelled to Upstate New York to take up a position as a large animal vet (predominantly dairy).

Upon returning to Ireland, Isabel took a position in a mixed practice in south Tipperary. Her main interests are in the area of dairy with an emphasis on fertility and herd health. She completed the UCD Dairy Herd Health Certificate in 2017.

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