Get to know your vet

Establishing a good relationship with your vet will pay off in the long run and in an emergency, says Prof Cheryl McCrindle.

Livestock vets prefer to establish long-term relationships with their clients. Most vets are reluctant to assist if a stranger phones asking for assistance after hours. This is not only because of security concerns or worries that the client might not be able to pay for their services, but the fact that the vet does not know the farm. It might lack adequate handling facilities, for example, which could further harm a sick animal, and make treatment more difficult.

Knowledge of the farming activities, not to mention the exact location of a farm, are also essential for a rapid response in an emergency. Clients are often more difficult to understand if they are under stress and misunderstandings about directions can have a vet driving in circles. In short, as with many other things in farming, advance planning yields the best results.

Visit your vet at the beginning
Establishing a good relationship with your vet starts with a visit to his or her practice. With rural vets, you will probably meet the receptionist or veterinary nurse initially, as the vet is probably out on a farm visit, unless you have made an appointment. You will be asked to fill in a client form and it’s a good idea to include a map of how to get to your farm or the geographical co-ordinates.

Next, arrange for the vet to come to your farm for a routine visit such as pregnancy diagnosis or bull fertility testing, so that he or she can get to know your set-up. If you have sheep or goats, a vet can use sonar to tell you how many lambs or kids to expect. Commercial piggeries and poultry farms tend to employ specialists, but small-scale poultry and pig farmers can benefit from advice on management, health care and feeding from a rural practitioner. You can also discuss with your vet the possibility of ordering routine stock remedies, such as dips and vaccines.

Find out if an after-hours service is provided and add the daytime and after-hours emergency numbers to your contacts list. If you call a vet in an emergency – a bull is injured, a sheep is struggling to give birth or a valuable cow has heartwater, for example – be specific about what is required, and give the type and number of animals to be treated.

If possible, speak directly to the vet, who will need to load all the required instruments and medications into the vehicle before leaving the practice. If you do not mention that you want five bullocks dehorned, for example, the vet may not bring a dehorner and sufficient local anaesthetic to get the job done.

Make sure your animals are in a crush, or at least confined, before the vet arrives and there are enough employees on hand to control the livestock for the diagnosis, treatment or procedure. Ensure that all the necessary records – vaccinations, age, date of service and production data – are available should they be needed.

Preferably be there yourself. Instructions to workers or relatives tend to ‘get lost in translation’. You’re paying the vet for advice, so make sure you’re the one who receives it.

Remuneration
Finally, vets need to be paid! According to the law, they may not provide credit, unless they are a licensed credit provider. Before the vet leaves for your farm, ask for a quote, and have cash, EFT facilities or a credit card handy to cover the costs.