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Veterinarians are trusted advisers for farm and industry

When Dr. Kelly Barratt graduated from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) she didn’t anticipate her passion for food animal medicine would eventually include a role in industry-led initiatives.

As a veterinarian and co-owner with Heartland Veterinary Services, a mixed animal practice in southwestern Ontario, Barratt focuses on large animals – including dairy, equine and small ruminants.  She values her interactions with food animal producers.

“In practice, you are the expert. Producers rely on you to examine their animals, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment, taking into consideration the type of medication, antimicrobial issues and withdrawal times, only using these treatments when necessary,” says Barratt, who graduated from OVC in 2005.

Involvement with organizations such as the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and the Ontario Association of Bovine Practitioners “allows me to think about these animal health and food safety issues at a different level, while providing more interaction with industry partners,” she adds.

In a new part-time role with DFO, Barratt is assisting with the Ontario implementation of the "proAction" initiative, a Dairy Farmers of Canada program that includes traceability, animal care and welfare, environmental stewardship and biosecurity.

Veterinarians have expertise in these areas and farmers look to their herd veterinarians for advice and coaching with these initiatives, says Barratt.

She credits her clinical training at OVC, especially on-farm opportunities with OVC’s Ruminant Field Service (RFS) practice, with providing a solid footing as she embraces these new opportunities.

Externship program is critical to teaching mandate

Fourth year doctor of veterinary medicine students spend their entire final year completing rotations in various areas of clinical veterinary medicine through the OMAFRA-UofG Partnership funded Veterinary Clinical Education Program, beginning with an eight-week externship at a rural veterinary practice that works with food animals and/or equine, as well as companion animals.

The RFS practice is critical to our teaching mandate, says Dr. Todd Duffield, professor in OVC’s Population Medicine department. The rotation includes lots of hands-on experience for food animal stream students with visits to farm clients for herd health checks, and the Elora Dairy Research Innovation Centre to practice physical exams and fine tune diagnostic and clinical skills.

Over the past two years, a day at the Ontario Livestock Exchange, the largest sales barn in Ontario, has been added. “This has become a really important part of our program,” adds Duffield. “Student veterinarians not only learn more about cow management and animal care and welfare, they see clinical cases they may not otherwise see during a regular farm service rotation.”

Additional food animal rotations focus on beef, small ruminants, dairy nutrition and more advanced dairy topics such as udder health, heifer, reproductive health and transition cow management, as well as a dairy herd problem solving rotation bringing together student veterinarians from OVC and Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

With the latter, students spend one week focusing on Ontario dairy herds and one week in Michigan at Green Meadows Dairy with the farm’s 3,300-cow milking herd.

“There is tremendous value in the interaction between the students from the two countries and the differing milking systems,” says Duffield. Students spend time on-farm with the producer, herd veterinarian and OVC faculty gathering information before working as a group to problem-solve herd level issues.

Barratt, who participated in the problem-solving rotation as a student, sees the benefits even more clearly today when her practice welcomes this rotation to client farms.

“As a practicing veterinarian I continue to learn from the faculty and students who bring their knowledge of up-to-date research and clinical procedures,” she says.

As seen in the OMAFRA-University of Guelph Partnership 2016 Agri-Food Yearbook.

Photo: Dr. Kelly Barratt, OVC 2015, with Ontario dairy farmer Carman Weppler and his daughter Rea.

Photo credit: Lachlan Weppler