This week’s Root posts will focus on the medical treatment of large livestock animals in Maine. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2010 market research statistics, in the U.S. just over 6 percent of private-practice veterinarians practice predominantly on food animals. In Maine, there are about a dozen private-practice veterinarians who work with large livestock animals. If you talk to a farmer in Maine the chances are he or she will tell you the availability of veterinarians who treat poultry, swine, beef and dairy cattle, sheep, and goats is dwindling.
“A report in 2012 from the National Research Council confirms that there is an unmet need for rural veterinarians,” said Dr. Andrew Maccabe, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. “Rural veterinary medicine presents some unique economic challenges and rural veterinarians often need to diversify in order to make a living.”
The University of Maine operates the Animal Health Lab as a service to the veterinarians, livestock producers, and animal owners of the state. The lab performs a variety of diagnostic services, including autopsies of animals, microbiology, virology, pathology, and special research support. The lab offers diagnostic support to clinicians, and assists in finding solutions for agricultural and aquacultural producers using Cooperative Extension resources.
The Root interviewed Anne Lichtenwalner, an Assistant Professor and Vet at the University of Maine Animal Health Lab, about the lab’s work and the shortage of large animal vets.
What types of animals do you find most difficult to treat?
Our work is usually “after the fact”; we are involved in figuring out what the problem is, then the vets who are “out in the field” actually apply that information by treating the animals. Rarely, if no vet is involved or available, we may prescribe treatments. The most challenging cases to figure out are those that involve several problems at once: an infection occurring due to a nutritional problem, for instance.
But when I was in practice, I’d say the most challenging animals to dependably get medication into, or clinical specimens from, are probably birds.
Have you ever had to deal with a quarantine situation?
Yes, but not on a national or regional level. Our lab does not impose quarantine, of course- that would be a function of the state vets.
Any trends, anything you are seeing in the past five to ten years…?
In general, animal care is improving, I think, because of more attention from both owners and from the general public. That said, there are always emerging or changing diseases in livestock. We have seen more of a sheep disease, Caseous lymphadenitis, than we expected to this year. We always see a lot of internal parasite cases- in the last 2 years we have studied lungworms in moose, for instance. I think there is more Marek’s disease in poultry than there used to be, and we also are seeing some poultry diseases in wild turkeys, so I strongly recommend keeping them away from your poultry areas.
You mentioned (during our phone conversation) Maine will not have veterinarians who treat livestock if livestock owners do not support those vets. How can this best be accomplished?
If you have farm animals, find a vet who is interested in helping you. Create a budget for vet costs. Plan to get that vet out to your farm and have them spend an hour walking around and getting to know your farm practices. If they know you, then it’s much more likely you can get the help you need when you need it. Sometimes your vet will recommend that you send our lab a sample, for instance, and then we can let them know what we find, suggest some treatments plans, and your vet can actually prescribe/provide the drugs you need to solve the problem.
Describe a typical day at the lab. What do you love most about what you do?
My job is incredibly diverse. A typical day is spent answering inquiries about cases, maybe doing a necropsy or 3, advising students, reading pathology slides, writing grants, giving lectures to university students, producer groups and other professionals, collecting samples from sheep or other animals for my disease research projects, analyzing data and writing reports. My most notable day in necropsy included a buffalo, a turkey and a chinchilla on the same day.
Photos by Sharon Kitchens