Cattle practice

What sorts of jobs are available for a cattle vet?

Working with cattle is often part of working in a mixed practice, although in some districts it is possible to specialise solely in cattle work. In both cases you are working in rural areas with all the pros and cons this involves. Being a cattle veterinarian can be exciting, challenging and rewarding and requires you to develop and hone a range of skills, many of which are only touched on in your undergraduate course. These include working with:

  • Dairy cattle
  • Beef cattle
  • Cattle export
  • Transfer of embryos and other breeding techniques.

In many practices cattle work is often a sick cow service including calvings and lamenesses, together with routine reproductive management including pregnancy testing. This work can be physically demanding.

In dairy practice there is more opportunity to work with sick cows, including abdominal surgery, and a greater range of veterinary reproductive work.  In beef practice you are more likely to pregnancy test larger numbers of cattle and also get involved in bull testing.



Apart from your veterinary degree, what education or training do you need?

Many young graduates come to cattle practice directly from university. Much of your undergraduate course work will be directly relevant to work in cattle practice. If you are considering working in cattle practice after graduation, you should take work experience in rural practices while you're a student. Remember that much of the work is seasonal, so you cannot be assured of all facets of experience at any one time of year.

Many farms have good facilities, but it is important to ensure that you are always working in safe conditions. Livestock handling skills can easily be learnt if you ask the farmer or vet you are working with what to do. Do not by shy to admit that you have had little to do with livestock if this is the case. Your honesty will be appreciated and people will teach you how to behave around livestock so that both you and the cattle are safe and calm.

What type of person do you need to be to be successful?

If you appreciate working outdoors, and working with practical and friendly clients, with whom you can develop an honest and open relationship then you should consider being a cattle vet. One of the big bonuses with any farm animal practice is that as you see the same clients regularly and it is possible to build up a meaningful relationship with them.

What’s it like being a cattle vet? What does the job entail?

The emphasis is often more on the herd or the client than the individual animal, but cows are rewarding patients and often respond well and dramatically to treatment. There is nothing more clinically satisfying than delivering a live calf, "rescuing" a cow with milk fever or down with dystocia, sorting the situation out and enabling her to walk away fixed.

The rural lifestyle will be appealing to many. The wide open spaces, the contact with Australian bushland and the often scenic drives are things that cattle practice offers on a daily basis. Travel between calls does also have its benefits - it certainly gives you "space" between clients as well as time to plan how you are going to approach the case on the farm you are about to visit. This means that although cattle work may be more physically demanding than a busy small animal practice, it is often less mentally demanding.

You will need good communication skills and be able to build close relationships with your clients and colleagues. With farm work it is sometimes better to admit to the client that you are not sure of a diagnosis or treatment and find a convenient time for another vet to give a second opinion if required. Country clients will appreciate your honesty more than a misdiagnosis. Communication has been made easier with the provision of a two-way radio or mobile phone contact back to base. It is important that you find someone within your practice who you can discuss cases with at the end of the day.

Most practices expect you to share after hours on call equally with the other vets in the practice. Mornings may start early, especially in hotter areas, although these are often compensated for by finishing work earlier. In more extensive areas a lot of travelling may be required.

Being a cattle vet is not glamorous! It is inevitable that at some stage you will get cow manure both in your gumboots and in your hair! At some stage you will probably have to lie down in a pile of mud to manoeuvre a dead, rotten and smelly calf from a cow. In fact there are many occasions where a poor sense of smell and a strong stomach is beneficial!

In seasonal calving areas there can be times when the practice is extremely busy and after hours calls can occur at any stage of the night. Travelling out to a farm to an after-hours emergency in the middle of the night challenges the comfort zone much more than driving 10 minutes into the warm and well-lit clinic to see a sick dog.

How do you make the first step in a career as a cattle vet?

Your first step is to get a job in a rural practice which a cattle component. Cattle vets learn and develop by working alongside more experienced practitioners. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere!

Continuing professional development is the next crucial step, with a range of opportunities to extend your knowledge and skills available through Australian Cattle Veterinarians, AVA and other providers.

What does the career path look like after you take your first step?

The Australian College of Veterinary Scientists offers memberships in a number of disciplines applicable to cattle practice.

More and more vets are moving into consultancy areas such as mastitis management, nutrition, benchmarking and financial planning. At this level clients often become good friends and you can make a significant contribution to their livelihood and income.

Working in cattle practice may open doors to other options apart from practice and partnership.

There are often roles within the pharmaceutical industry and government that require a good understanding of the rural animal industry. These career paths offer diverse opportunity and challenge.

Rural animal industries have representative bodies such as the Meat and Livestock Australia, or the Dairy Research and Development Corporation that employ veterinarians.

Join the special interest group for cattle vets, Australian Cattle Veterinarians.

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