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Farm Vetting: The Fulfilling Career Choice

I graduated in 2017, among my classmates roughly 10% went into either mixed or farm animal work and many of these have since gone into purely small animal work. Speaking to students graduating more recently less and less seem to be choosing farm practice which made me think, why is this?

I’m 6 years out of Uni, still in clinical first opinion farm animal-only practice and I still enjoy my job! So how do you make clinical farm vetting a fulfilling career choice? And how do we inspire the next generation of vets to follow in our footsteps? If you are a vet student, read on, farm vetting is an awesome life choice!

There are a number of barriers vet students often mention when they are asked if they want to go into farm practice. As a medium-sized blond female not from a farming background I manage to disprove most of the obvious concerns regarding gender, height, strength, and general background farming knowledge but what about the concern that it is the poor cousin of veterinary career choices? This unfair stigma focuses on the minimal (in comparison to small animals) diagnostic capabilities and consequently limited solutions rather than the amazing opportunities to build relationships and positively impact people’s businesses and livelihoods.

If University teaching is broken down by time the large majority is focused on companion animals, with the argument being made that the majority of vet students become small animal vets with much more specialization opportunities. This is undeniably true but also reinforces the idea that farm animal vetting is less important and less rewarding. Often students have rated their early farm placements as the most enjoyable and hands-on, yet when starting to choose career routes they find small animals ‘more familiar’ and potentially a safer option. What if we were able to make farm practice more accessible throughout the University years? What would that look like for the profession and how many fulfilling careers could be found that were previously considered shut?!

The beauty of farm vetting is its potential diversity. Like many thousands of vets before me, I got itchy feet a few years into clinical practice and started looking for the next thing, coming out of the steep learning curve of the new graduate and into the plateau of clinical cruising. That time when you are confident in seeing (and hopefully fixing!) sick cows, over the excitement of cesareans and LDAs, and start wondering what is next. There seems to be a wide spread of where people go from here, leaving clinical practice is very common, alongside moving jobs (greener grass often springs to mind) or further structured learning, often upskilling a niche area of interest.

My route was a bit of a mixture. While being in full-time clinical work I completed a Production Animal certificate (CertAVP), and became a Welsh BVA (British Veterinary Association) and SVS (Sheep Vet Society) committee member. I then got a Nuffield Farming Scholarship and in order to make the most of this opportunity started locuming, working all over the UK and New Zealand. What other profession allows you to up sticks and move to the other side of the world just by filling in a bit of paperwork (and no extra exams). Nuffield is just one amazing opportunity open to farm animal vets, a lifelong network of incredibly interesting farmers and associated businesses across the world with a two-year funded travel time to really investigate a topic that you are passionate about. And all while being a first-opinion clinical farm vet.

Often farm practice is thought of as an inflexible working environment. However, as with all areas of the veterinary profession, currently, vets are also in short supply in farm animal practice. That means that once you are proficient you can dictate your own work schedule, place of work, and even type of work you do to some extent, just like those in companion animal practice! If TB testing isn’t for you, fine, there are practices that don’t do it and practices that will have you as a purely clinical vet as well! Farm practices are also acutely aware of female vets potentially leaving clinical farm practice after having children due to potentially inflexible work schedules. Consequently, there are many workplaces that are provided flexible working from no out-of-hours, shared job roles, and even out of hours only roles for those that thrive off emergency procedures.

Most farm vets will tell you that it is the client relations that keep them hooked in farm animal practice, it’s definitely pretty unique to our job! We have the opportunity to work closely with businesses and families, integrating into their livelihoods and affecting change on a herd level and whole business level rather than an individual animal. One small change can affect the health and welfare of several hundred animals, isn’t that an exciting prospect?! We also have the ability to use modern technology to affect change. Instead of hoping for the latest ultrasound machines and better surgery facilities, we are able to implement change through data analysis from wearable technology alongside other data points including in-line milk sensors and laboratory reports.

With more and more cheaper technology and improving AI algorithms (artificial intelligence, not insemination, an important distinction when talking to farmers and farm vets!), this is an exciting new area to investigate and trailblaze in, which engages your thinking in a different way. This isn’t just for consultants, it is an opportunity to have a varied workday in first opinion farm practice. From scanning in the morning to working through infectious disease problems, training farmers, and in-depth data analysis. All of which can help improve animal welfare and farm businesses!

So if you are a vet student, give that Farm Veterinary career choice another thought. Engage on your EMS and reach out to Farm Vets, we’re pretty accessible on most social media platforms! The freedom to shape your career is worth its weight in gold and allows for a constantly interesting, fulfilling time. And a career with longevity is not to be sniffed at! And who doesn’t love being outside in the sun on a warm Summer day? Even the (maybe cold!) winters have some beauty!

About the Author:

Dr. Miranda graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Bristol in 2017 and has worked as a Farm Animal and Companion Animal Veterinarian in the UK and New Zealand as well as sitting on the committees of the UK Sheep Vet Society and Welsh British Veterinary Association. While completing her Cert AVP in Production Animals she set up and now runs an educational social media account aimed at opening farming and farm vetting up to the general public as well as educating farmers and vet students on production animal diseases.

Miranda has worked on farms and as a vet in New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and the UK with consulting farm experience in Kenya while undertaking a Nuffield Scholarship focusing on anthelmintic resistance in sheep. Her Nuffield travels have taken her to nearly every continent. Despite not being from a farming background she is interested in speaking and engaging with farmers and improving farm businesses through animal health and production. Outside of work she spends most of her time hiking having started climbing 14ers as well as tackling the scree fields of New Zealand!

For more advice on finding your pathway in veterinary medicine, why not purchase Dr. Dave’s book for Graduate vets?


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