In my teens I wanted to be a vet. I always liked working with animals and the job really appealed to me. Fortunately for me, science got in the way.
Academically, science and maths didn’t come to me as naturally as the likes of geography or history did and, as a result, I struggled with them. A prerequisite back then, was that you needed to do two science subjects for the Leaving Cert if you wanted to do veterinary and one of those had to be chemistry.
Despite knowing my weakness at the subject, I didn’t want to give up on the dream just yet so I undertook to do chemistry alongside agricultural science for the Leaving.
There were some positives. As there was only two of us in the year who needed to do chemistry, we were accommodated in the chemistry class in the convent secondary school. Well, it may have seemed like a positive but there’s no denying it, attending an all-girls school three times a week was a bit daunting at first.
When it came to the classroom, I knew well before it came to exam time that the vet dream wasn’t to be. I could get by in the subject but not enough to know I could make a success of it.
In hindsight, I’m glad it didn’t work out. While there are challenges in farming, at least within my own ditches I’m dealing with the consequences of my own decisions. Vets have to deal with the ups and downs of livestock farming on a day-to-day basis.
The lot of the vet consists of issues that both naturally occur and those that rise from other people’s choices and circumstance.
A tough calving due to using a bull that had too high a calving difficulty, stock that have temperament issues, on farm animal handling facilities that vary from world-class to non-existent.
There’s night work, long hours and increasingly large catchments, especially in the western section of the country. Even within west Cork, there could be 90 minutes or more between the furthest clients with a practice.
For good measure, cashflow can be variable, some of their clientele may have difficulty paying due to cashflow issues while there’s another cohort of farmers who don’t believe in paying at all.
As both the farming and veterinary landscape change, the relationship between farmer and vet will evolve too. With further reduction in what antibiotics can be used, herd health plans and preventative measures could gain more prominence.
The rise in importance of the small animal surgery as an income stream to them and the fact that it’s more streamlined will be a challenge to those requiring a large animal vet. The prevailing type of farming in the area influences what changes could occur too.
The role of the vet is no longer confined to animal husbandry. In some cases, the farmer can be a patient as much as a client. On some occasions, vets have to pick up the pieces where a farmer has followed policy to a tee but has bitten off more than they could chew.
Just as people’s academic ability differs, so too does the capacity of individuals to manage farms.
In COVID-19 times, vets have provided a social outlet to some farmers who may not meet many people. They may not realise it but with less social interaction the bit of chat while on a call has more importance now than ever before.