by SUSAN MANN
Last month the Federation wrote to Ontario’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Deb Stark, asking her to study the potential of its proposal.
“We looked across at what the medical profession is doing to encourage practitioners to move to the north and we more or less just borrowed a page from their approach,” says OFA president Geri Kamenz.
Stark declined to comment in detail on the OFA’s letter because she hasn’t answered it yet. But she did say that nothing was off the table.
Whether farmers have adequate access to vet services depends on where they live and what kind of animals they have, she explains.
“It’s also different for what you’re looking for - a herd health program versus someone to come out on the weekend and treat a sick goat,” she says.
Dairy farmer John Vanthof was a Dairy Farmers of Ontario director for four years and knows of the difficulties Northern farmers face. He’s in a pocket of 59 dairy farms two hours north of North Bay that’s served by four vets, but that’s unusual for the north. During his travels as DFO’s northern director, Vanthof found that areas like Rainy River, Cochrane and Kapuskasing don’t have adequate vet services.
“Emergency services are basically non-existent,” he says. “For herd health and stuff they all get together and try to entice a vet to come from Manitoba once in a while.”
One of the reasons for the decline in large animal vets in remote areas is reduced demand. BSE took a real hit. “People stopped calling the vet,” Stark says.
Cow-calf farmer Paul Wettlaufer agrees.
Wettlaufer, who farms near Hanover, says the vet in his area changed to just treating companion animals about two years ago. So now Wettlaufer tries “to handle a lot of the stuff myself.”
There are limits, like caesarians. Last fall “we had to spend $300 on a $50 cow,” he says. “From a business standpoint it would have been better to shoot the cow. Both of them put together hardly paid for the vet.”
The Ontario Association of Bovine Practitioners is also studying the situation. President Dr. Warren Skippon says if there are enough good, progressive farmers in an area usually there is enough business to support a practice.
In outlying areas with fewer farms it’s difficult for vet practices to survive. Sometimes they’ll compliment it with companion animal work.
One of the things the Ontario government has done is to put more funding into the Ontario Veterinary College’s Veterinary Clinical Educational Program, says Stark, adding they’ve specifically asked college officials to look at what can be done to encourage large animal vets in remote areas.
The government is also talking to vet groups and the registered vet technicians association to see if makes sense to allow registered vet technicians to perform more services.
The Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph is working with the government and the vet’s association to encourage encourage veterinarians to choose the large animal practice, says Kerry Lissemore, associate dean of academic affairs. But the issue’s complex. “It can’t be one institution acting alone.” BF