The cattle industry is struggling, not just in regards to natural issues such as drought, feed, or animals produced, but concerning the human element involved.  Individual ranches get larger as the smaller producers are forced to sell out or retire and yet the population, and thus the demand for quality beef,  continues to grow.  Many cattleman’s associations have already seen this as memberships have declined sharply in recent years.  Yet in order to meet the continual demand for beef, there will never be a way to completely remove the rancher from the picture.  As other industries such as technology and the medical field increase and our next generation steps out into those markets, our typical rancher is nearing retirement age with very few stepping up to assume their places.  There are folks out there like myself that are already in or preparing to assume these duties and lifestyles, but not in the numbers seen in the past.

This rings true for many aspects surrounding the beef cattle production market.  A recent study by the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that only 2% of the 2010 graduating DVM classes are planning to work primarily with large ag animals rather than specialty or small animal practices.  I personally know many veterinarians and current vet students (I work at the Center for Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University) and as such, I have seen that fact firsthand.  50% of the current ag animal practitioners are over the age of 50 now (the same AVMA survey as above), and with fewer replacements, this could be a recipe for trouble on the horizon for ranchers and producers.  How, you may ask?  As the number decreases, their time simply becomes more valuable,  and the further they drive, the more expensive the farm call becomes.  It’s not any kind of cloak and dagger conspiracy, but simple economics.

And so, we all ask, what do we do about it?  My answer comes from my roots as a high country, Oregon rancher – self reliance.  Yes, there will be times when it is necessary to call the vet for a farm call, it’s unavoidable.  But there are many things we as the producers can do for our stock between these calls.  Educate yourself in the required testing needed to get your cattle to the market you are involved in.  No matter if it’s breeding and genetics, beef production, or dairy cattle products, there are ways you can do your own testing and actually pay less.   There are many classes offered to teach you animal husbandry and basic skills short of getting your Veterinary Technician license that can make nearly anyone more comfortable drawing blood, taking prepuce scrapings, and gathering diagnostic specimens.  Almost every State University in states with a high concentration of agricultural areas have a veterinary disease diagnostic lab, and with a little research online, you will find that they will accept private owner submissions just as readily as those taken and submitted by your local veterinarian.  The internet puts all this information and more at our fingertips, and I for one believe in using it to it’s fullest extent.  If, however, you’re not comfortable with this, there is another option.  Consulting and herd management services handle many of these same tests as well as nutritional guidance, feed sampling, and general health requirements.

Perhaps you’ve used one of these services in the past or plan to in the future.  I would like to hear any experiences or opinions about it, or answer questions about sample submissions as that is currently the line of work I handle.  Thanks for reading!

The USDA has a comprehensive listing of testing facilities that can be found at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahln/labs.shtml

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