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A career as a farm vet - what do you need to know?

Posted 2 months ago by Rebekah Shields

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The James Herriot books and TV series have inspired many a veterinary career, particularly for those who like the idea of farm jobs: lambing in spring, plenty of fresh air and picturesque settings. But what is it really like to work as a farm vet? Do the pros of helping bring animals into the world outweigh the cons of chasing wayward cows across dark and muddy fields? We take a look at what you need to know if you are thinking of starting out – or diversifying into – this popular field.

Where do I start?

The obvious starting place is your veterinary degree, which will take five years of full-time study to complete, although there are fast-track courses available for some science graduates which take only four years. To get accepted on a course you’ll need to have three A-levels at high grades, including biology and chemistry. Courses will provide a mix of theoretical and practical teaching.

By the time you have graduated from vet school, you will already have spent a period learning your trade on a farm so should have a good idea of whether it’s for you.

The logical next step is to work in a general practice where you come into contact with farm animals as well as smaller and domestic animals. You will also learn the practical skills of managing staff and all the things that go along with helping run a practice – paperwork, HR and general administration.

From here you could move to a practice that specialises in farm animals. This may involve relocating to a suitable area – for example, many dairy farms are concentrated in the south-west of England, and may provide more opportunities for farm jobs.

It’s a good idea – and a requirement – to keep your knowledge up-to-date, so you could consider some postgraduate courses that focus on farm or large animals. These may be on one particular type of animal, for example cattle, and look at the diseases that tend to affect them and issues pertinent to farming such as reproduction. Others may look at vet business management, useful if you are aspiring to set up your own farm vet practice.

The personal attributes you will need to succeed in this field include good communication skills, physical and mental stamina and the ability to make decisions under pressure. Of course, a love of the outdoors and a willingness to work in difficult conditions are also required.

What does it involve day-to-day?

Your tasks as a farm vet will be varied, and will change according to the season. You may be examining heifers before insemination to ensure that they are ready for pregnancy, and scanning to determine the success of pregnancy at a later stage. When calving or lambing season comes along, you could be out in all weathers at any time of the day or night helping bring new life into the world.

You will also be involved in providing a range of tests, for example taking blood and performing ultrasound or x-ray exams, performing routine TB tests, making diagnoses and providing treatment, including surgery and dental work.

Nowadays vets also have a preventative role, working as consultants as well as problem fixers. The spectre of the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic means that advising on disease prevention is as important as treating disease once it is present. Vets will also give advice on nutrition and behaviour to ensure that farm animals are kept as healthy as possible.

They also advise farmers on how to carry out vaccinations and minor procedures themselves, and offer training and support to both farmers and students.

In any vet role, you’ll also need to dedicate a proportion of your time in the office to writing up reports and nutrition and other plans for animals. As a farm vet, you will also sometimes be driving long distances between jobs.

Some farm vets not only have experience with cows, sheep and pigs, but specialise further in equine jobs looking after horses on stud farms. Of course, for this specialty you will need plenty of experience of, and love for, horses. Postgraduate courses are available for this area too.

The pros

Many farm vets enjoy the satisfaction that comes with getting to know a farm and its animals, building up a rapport with a farmer and their livestock.

Working as a farm vet means you won’t be stuck in a clinic all day and will have the freedom of the open road as you travel to your clients.

You’ll be able to see the real results of your expertise as farms grow as businesses, producing and caring for healthy animals.

The cons

Being on-call in winter and being asked to come out to a farm in cold, dark conditions is never a popular aspect of vet life.

There is always a risk of injury when treating animals, but of course bigger farm animals have the potential to cause more serious injuries if handled when stressed.

For any sort of vet, having to put an animal to sleep can be a tough decision and in these circumstances you will need to be able to put your emotions to one side and make level-headed decisions.

Salaries

You will start out at around £30,000, while an experienced farm vet can earn around £50,000 a year. The most senior farm vets may earn up to £70,000 or more. This may be topped with shares in their practice if this is offered. Note that some positions also come with accommodation as part of a package.

If you are looking for veterinary jobs, farm jobs or searching for the perfect candidate, contact the friendly team at Agricultural Recruitment Specialists for a wide variety of specialisms and vacancies to suit you as well as top quality service.

See www.agrirs.co.uk/contact-us or call our team on 01905 345155.

Resources

British Equine Veterinary Association: beva.org.uk

British Veterinary Assocation: bva.co.uk

National Careers Service: nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/

Prospects: prospects.ac.uk

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons: rcvs.org.uk

Royal Veterinary College: rvc.ac.uk

Call us on:
UK: 01905 345 155
International: 0044 1905 345 155