Large animal veterinarian fears the specialty is a ‘dying breed’

Large animal veterinarians in short supply

SOUTHEAST, MISSOURI (KFVS) - Parts of Bollinger county and Perry county in Southeast Missouri are facing a shortage veterinarians who can help large animals like cows, horses and other livestock.

Dr. Austin Bock with Jackson Veterinary Clinic works with cattle farmers in several counties.

He fears the specialty could become a ‘dying breed’ and if the trend continues it could effect the quality of the food you buy.

Part of Bock’s job is to make sure hundreds of cows in Southeast Missouri are healthy, but he says he is so busy he turns away new clients ever single day.

“There is an extreme shortage in the area to where they can go look for help," Bock said. "If I’m available I will do my best to be there and help them out but at time we can’t be two or three places at once.”

Bock says other vets that once specialized in large animals are retiring or switching exclusively to small animals, and he says it’s hard to come by new recruits.

“Probably 95 percent of students graduating from veterinarian school go into small animal medicine," Bock said. "We had one application out of probably 1,200 or 1,300 veterinarian students.”

Bock has been trying to hire an new assistant, but says there a lot of factors to scare students away from working with larger animals including the crippling student loan debt.

“The amount of financial stress is significant," Bock said. "Secondly would be the amount of time they’re on call working. It becomes a stress on your personal life. The other would be that it’s a dangerous job. The cows are a lot tougher than you are and some of these bulls weigh 2,000 pounds. You have to be very, very safe.”

With less access to veterinary care, Bock says many ranchers take on the responsibility of delivering calves, giving vaccinations and dealing with other health needs.

If less vets are able to help or even give advice, Bock worries the quality of food could suffer.

“There is a chance a rancher could maybe do some thing the wrong way, where as a large animal vet is directly involved with your food supply,” Bock said. “Our goal is to treat the animals as humanely as possible and use the appropriate medications to get that animal to get back out to the pasture field to raise babies, or to the diner plate as efficiently and safely as possible.”

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has a program for new veterinarians interested in working with large animals.

It can pay up to $75,000 towards their student loans if they work in a shortage area for three years.

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