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New hopes for attracting large-animal vets

UC Davis program gives veterinary students valuable hands-on training.



California’s livestock and meat producers have one of the world’s best health and safety records, but that status may be threatened in the years ahead because of a severe projected shortage of food-animal veterinarians, according to some experts.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for large-animal veterinarians—sometimes referred to as food-animal veterinarians—will increase 35 percent by 2016, from 62,000 full-time jobs to 84,000.

“It’s becoming more of a concern about where veterinary services will be coming from,” said Dr. Richard Breitmeyer, state veterinarian in the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “The reality is, it’s going to get more and more difficult going forward.”

Because California has the largest agricultural economy in the United States and about 14,000 beef cattle operations, the lack of livestock veterinarians is particularly alarming. But at the University of California, Davis, Zuhal Elhan and Ashley Amarall are trying to buck the trend.

They’re students at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, interning with Dr. Nancy Martin. The experienced vet is giving them hands-on training, working part of the year with bulls on a Yolo County family ranch.

“It’s really amazing because you can only learn so much in a classroom,” said Zuhal. “That gives us a good basis, and then coming out here in the summer just gives us the clinical experience that helps tie all the ideas that we get from the classroom together.”

This program is not only important for the burgeoning veterinarians, but for cattle ranchers like Kim and Henry Favier. The fourth-generation ranchers have the students out to their ranch to practice what they’ve learned in the classroom.

“The farm’s been here in my family since the 1920s. It means a lot to us. We’re part of the land and part of the industry I’m very proud of,” said Kim. “It’s a lot of hard work, but a great way to live.”

Each bull can produce about 50 calves and since a calf can sell for about $500, an infertile bull in a commercial herd can be economically devastating. Ashley and Zuhal test about 100 bulls in a day during their internship, checking their fertility and health. In addition, Dr. Martin checks specimens collected from bulls under a microscope, to ensure that they’re free from disease. They’re then sent to a lab for further analysis.

Students in the UC Davis program typically spend much of their two-year course on a commercial cattle operation working alongside experienced vets. Attending daily calls is an important part of it.

Zuhal, who grew up in urban Los Angeles, acknowledges that working with cattle is the last thing she thought of doing as a kid. But now that she’s tried the UC Davis Early Veterinary Student Bovine Experience Program, she’s hooked!

“We’re so closed off from the food-animal industry in the urban environment, so you don’t see the ranches, you don’t see the work that goes into it,” she said. “You get your hamburger all nicely packaged, but all of us out here do the work so that it comes to you healthy and safe.”

For more information about the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, visit www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu.


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