Thursday, October 04, 2007

As more veterinarians chose small animals over large ones, farmers face a 'crisis'

In recent years, fewer and fewer veterinarians have chosen to work with large animals, and that means trouble for farmers. Since 1990, the number of large-animal vets has shrunk to fewer than 4,500, The New York Times reports. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, but it is clear there are just not enough large-animal vets (such as Dr. Becky Myers, in a Times photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik).

First, many current large-animal vets are nearing retirement, such as in Michigan, where the Ionia Sentinel-Standard reports that more than half of the state's food animal vets are approaching retirement age. Secondly, small-animal practices are far more lucrative than large-animal ones. “For Fifi the family dog, you’ll spend $1,500 or $2,000,” Don Armes, a state representative in Oklahoma, told the Times. “That old cow — at some point economics kick in and you say if she’s going to cost $1,500, I can buy two cows for that, so I should have shot her.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports the median starting salary of large-animal veterinarians to be $60,500 — $11,000 less than that of small-animal veterinarians, writes the Times' Pam Belluck. For vets with 25 years or more experience, the median is $98,500 for large-animal practitioners and $122, 500 for small.

The face of veterinary schools also has changed. Women have come to dominate the enrollment of veterinary schools, reports The Boston Globe. Currently, 79 percent of these students are women, compared to the 1960s when women accounted for 6 percent of enrollment. Of these students, few want to work with large animals. And even those that had that interest find the money of small-animal practices too good to turn down, especially since most new vets have about $100,000 in debt.

Not only does the shortage mean headaches for farmers — and often a loss of livestock when medical help is unavailable — it presents problems for food safety and the detection of diseases. “We look at it as a crisis,” Dr. Roger Mahr, the AVMA president told the Times. “Of all the emerging diseases in people in the last 25 years, 75 percent of those were transmitted from animals. Veterinarians are the ones to identify those diseases in animals first.”

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