Getting and Keeping Large Animal Veterinarians

June 17, 2022 | Suzanne Armstrong

Getting and Keeping Large Animal Veterinarians

Ensuring farmers have access to a veterinarian, no matter where they are farming in the province, is challenging. This challenge is not new, but several factors are increasing concern about this both now and into the future.

There is a shortage of veterinarians across the country, both for small animals and food animals. With high costs for education, and high stress, many veterinarians are experiencing burnout.

An increase in pet ownership is drawing more vets to specialize in the often more lucrative small animal practice, rather than offering mixed or large animal services. Many established vets in rural areas are likely to retire in the near future. Rural areas, in particular, are finding it challenging to recruit new vets and even harder to get them to stay.

A new report on the issue has been released by a research team from the University of Guelph, entitled “Examining Need, Capacity and Barriers to Accessing Food Animal Veterinary Services in Underserved Areas of Rural Ontario.” The report examines the challenges and potential solutions to help ensure access to food animal veterinary services. This study was undertaken with funding from OMAFRA under the Ontario Agri-food Innovation Alliance.

The report makes recommendations for the provincial government; producers and producer groups; rural municipalities; the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), which is responsible for training new veterinarians; and the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO), which is responsible for regulating practicing veterinarians and veterinary facilities.

Beef farms are by far the most predominant farm type in these underserved areas. At the request of Beef Farmers of Ontario, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO) has spearheaded a multi-stakeholder working group to look at possible solutions to improve access to veterinary services. The new report mentions several recommended objectives that have come out of this CVO working group. Among them is an increased focus on team-based veterinary care, which involves Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) working alongside veterinarians. This model has proven successful in southern Ontario and offers many possible benefits for other rural locations.

Farmers themselves also have an important role to play in fostering and maintaining a good working relationship with their vets. The CVO group also discussed “veterinary and producer partnerships” as a proactive way to promote herd health. Veterinarians are far better able to provide services, including telemedicine where appropriate, when they have an established relationship with the farm and farm staff and are not just called in for emergencies.

At its root, the key finding of the study is that this is a complicated issue with many different players influencing the outcome. All those with a stake in the matter will need to contribute to finding effective solutions.

That includes the CFFO. We are actively engaging on this issue with our membership and with the many organizations involved. There’s no quick answer here, but we are committed to seeking long-term solutions that will work for farmers.

Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Policy & Research for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.