National Agriculture Day: celebrating our rural veterinarians

16 Nov 2023
ACV President Craig Wood.png

(Image: ACV President, Dr Craig Wood, supplied)

For someone born in the remote town of Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, life in the small community of Terang in southwest Victoria suits Dr Craig Wood just fine. Not that the busy cattle veterinarian embodies a ‘slower pace of life’ rural stereotype.

The energetic father of 3 girls balances his veterinary work with his role as president of the Australian Cattle Veterinarians (ACV) and other volunteer responsibilities that place him squarely at the heart of his community. When he’s not attending to client calls, Craig is also an active member of his local Country Fire Authority (CFA) and, for the last 7 years, a volunteer speaker with Let’s Talk. The community-focused, early intervention mental health foundation was started in southwest Victoria by the family members of one of his clients, who died by suicide.

It's these community connections that have made living and working in the regional town for over 20 years so rewarding. “Sometimes you go to visit your mates, but they’re also your clients. So yes, it’s a blurred line, but it's really nice, you know where you're going, and you know all the people. It can be difficult for some – you go to the pub, the footy club and people ask you questions, but I’m quite used to it now and can switch off if I need to. If I’m at the pub, I just call it work.”

Being involved and invested in your community is something Craig encourages when he speaks to graduate vets who are considering rural practice. “It makes your job easier. Clients are a bit more understanding and forgiving when things don’t go quite as planned and they realise you’ve done your best job and they know you as a person. And, knowing that I’m involved in the mental health space, they seem to be more forthcoming about opening up about some of their own struggles. So sometimes our consults are more than consults in rural practices.”

As Australia celebrates National Agriculture Day on Friday 17 November, it’s important to recognise the veterinarians who contribute to the agriculture industry, working together with agricultural partners to ensure animal health and welfare is optimised, food security is maintained, and disease risk is minimised.

Craig agrees it takes a “we’re all in the game together” approach. He believes being seen as a source of independent advice is what makes veterinarians such an invaluable part of the agricultural industry.

“In general, we don't have a product to sell, and I think my clients really do appreciate that independence. We’re often part of an advisory team and we might pull together other resources and put a bit of a team around a farmer. Whether it be around nutrition or with the milk factory, we might work with other service providers to get a positive outcome. My clients are really good at reaching out with questions, and I'll encourage them to ask and not just believe the first person trying to sell them something.”

(Image: Dr Craig Wood, supplied)

A Terang local since graduating from WA’s Murdoch University, Craig has closely followed changes over the years in the region around farm structure and economics. Consolidation has meant farms that previously ran 200 head of cattle are now averaging between 600 and 700. For Craig, this has directed a lot of his work towards preventative herd health and training, with higher staff turnover on bigger farms and transient workers such as backpackers.

He also has a keen sense of the challenges that come with working in regional communities, although acknowledges they are not unique to rural areas. “We’re always trying to find staff to fill positions. Housing and rentals are also an issue in rural communities. For those returning to work, or if you’ve got a family, they can be unpredictable hours and lack of childcare is a big issue in a lot of rural towns. If I went to a 5 o’clock call for large animals and I had to pick up kids at 6 o’clock, I can’t guarantee something doesn’t go wrong in the yards and I’m going to make that pickup. People can’t return to work because there is no childcare – you’re 2 or 3 years out (of the workforce) until you can even get childcare in some places, or not at all.”

(Image: ACV Past President Dr Tracy Sullivan and ACV President Dr Craig Wood, ACV Conference 2023)

Tackling these and many other issues in his capacity as ACV President has been an interesting journey for Craig, increasing his exposure to diverse ideas from across Australia. It’s also given him a new appreciation for the time it can take to work these ideas through multiple layers of governance. But he’s enjoying the strategic planning that goes with the role and ensuring the future of the ACV for its members.

For Craig, the ACV Conference in March next year presents somewhat of a challenge – the introduction of dual dairy and beef streams for the first time in 2024 has him torn about which one to choose. He’s also looking forward to the new pre-conference, small-class workshops.

The most important feature for him though is the collegiality of the conference and the opportunity for the close-knit cattle veterinarian community to come together. “We are often on the phone to each other, or an email list or Facebook group, asking questions and sharing resources. To see each other in person is great because we so very rarely come together. And when we do, we want to have a fair bit of fun!”

 

You can join Craig at the ACV Conference Welcome Reception, Monday 18 March 2024, which for next year has been renamed ‘The ACV Presidential Birthday Welcome Reception’ in honour of Craig’s birthday on the day!

Registrations opening soon.