Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine recently launched the first phase of its Integrative Beef Cattle Program for Veterinarians, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food & Agriculture Veterinary Services grant in excess of $235,000.
“In the veterinary community, everybody is well aware that there is a shortage of veterinary services in many rural areas, largely affecting beef producers and other livestock producers as well as pets,” said Dr. John Gilliam, clinical associate professor of food animal production medicine and field services at the veterinary college and co-leader on the grant. “Our ultimate goal is to produce an education program to increase the number, the stability and the longevity of rural veterinary practices serving the beef producers across the state.”
To launch the first phase of the program, the veterinary college is conducting research by distributing surveys to veterinarians, veterinary students and producers, the college said in its announcement.
“We know we have a rural veterinary shortage, but as far as the specifics related to Oklahoma, these first surveys will help us determine where is the specific need,” said co-project lead Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, director of continuing education and beef cattle extension specialist. “We’ll also learn some finer details, such as: What is the average size herd that most practitioners serve? What travel distances do they incur? We also want to know if there are needs of producers that, because of the limited number of rural veterinarians, they are not able to have those needs met. If we can determine what the needs are in rural communities, what some of the reasons for the shortages are, we can figure out ways to address those needs.”
Once they identify specific needs of veterinary practices within rural communities, the team will move into phase two of the program, the announcement said.
“The secondary phase is to develop an educational program for veterinarians to provide them with additional skill sets that may allow them to expand their practice area and provide additional services to beef producers, which will help those producers be more profitable,” Gilliam explained. “A broader service portfolio can improve the financial stability of the veterinarian and his or her clinic and, thus, their longevity in the community.”
Biggs added, “We will bring together beef cattle practitioners here in Oklahoma and allow them to sit side by side with their colleagues to benefit from the expertise we have here at the College of Veterinary Medicine as well as our partners in extension from both animal science and agricultural economics.
"We want to give veterinarians more tools in the toolkit, so to speak, so they can expand their services to meet the growing needs of beef cattle producers when it comes to technology, for instance. We want to give rural veterinarians opportunities to move to more herd health services that can better prepare and serve the herds they currently have but also expand those practices, which will create more sustainability in their practice,” Biggs said.
Gilliam noted that the third goal of the project is to "connect veterinary students who are interested in rural practice with practitioners currently engaged in rural practice.” He said this would provide "mentoring and direction" for veterinary students while providing practicing veterinarians, who may be looking to hire associates or potentially sell a practice, with connections to students interested in rural practice.
Biggs said the college is “hearing from rural practitioners that they want to fill and specifically to serve those beef cattle producers who are so integral to the economy here in Oklahoma.”
Biggs suggested that a final goal would be to create a template that could be used in other programs across the U.S.
Also working on the project are: Jerry Malayer, professor, McCasland chair and associate dean for research and graduate education, College of Veterinary Medicine; Derrell Peel, professor and agricultural economist, Ferguson College of Agriculture; David Lalman, professor, Harrington chair and extension beef cattle specialist, Ferguson College of Agriculture; Carlos Risco, dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Paul Beck, associate professor and Denis & Marta White endowed chair, Ferguson College of Agriculture. Also consulting on the project is Richard Prather, owner of Ellis County Animal Hospital in Shattuck, Okla.