Technology and long-established client relationships have allowed farm animal veterinarians to maintain somewhat regular operations, albeit with some notable changes, during the ongoing pandemic.
Widely used telehealth services, in particular, have helped keep a semblance of normalcy.
“We’re a large vet service so that means we’ve had to make more changes than if we only had a few people,” says Kelly Barratt, a large animal veterinarian with Heartland Veterinary Care in Listowel, Drayton, and Mount Forest.
With multiple locations that include a milk lab, supply areas, as well as companion animal treatment areas, Barratt says their approach to many otherwise normal tasks requires more co-ordination than they did before COVID-19.
The same applies when working on the farm, and particularly for tasks where people need to work in close proximity.
Why it matters: Healthy livestock are critical for business, and a steady food supply.
“On-farm it’s been an interesting challenge because we tend to work closely together. We say to stand at least one cow length apart,” she says. “Things take a little bit longer. Biosecurity isn’t new to farmers at all, and especially to veterinarians. The human health level is new.”
Wearing extra personal protective equipment, such as face masks, a vigorous sanitization program, and other small changes to how tasks are completed, such as not facing one another when lifting an animal or object, also help alleviate risk when farm visits are required.
“The communication that’s new is we contact our clients the day before to make sure they are still healthy, and they are still comfortable with people coming to their farm,” says Barratt.
Trevor Lawson, a veterinarian operating Fundy Veterinarians Ltd. in Nova Scotia and member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s national issues committee, says part of increased awareness involves more communication with farmers.
If a farmer has been sick, for example, Lawson says practitioners can adapt by sending more than one person if the job requires. This is particularly important in situations where physical distancing is not possible.
“Some tasks just can’t be performed alone,” he says, providing a recent example where a farm client had to help him calve a “particularly unfriendly” Charolais cow.
He reiterates the importance of taking steps to limit person-to-person interaction whenever possible.
Managing stress on the part of employees and their farm clients has been another source of significant pressure, Barratt says.
However, long-established relationships have made it much easier to “have frank conversations” while staying productive, she says.
That trust also makes it easier for vets to monitor animals from a distance and for the farmer to have confidence in their ability to do so.
Barratt says diagnosing and checking on farm animals through phone calls and online (using video) has been a long-employed method of eliminating the need for farm visits.
“We’ve been extremely active in telehealth for many years,” she says.
Lawson also says telehealth practices were common prior to COVID-19, so farmers and vets did not have a steep learning curve when the pandemic arrived.
“I’ve been in practice for 15 years and have been using it right from the start,” says Lawson.
“We’re adapting in light of COVID, but really we were doing much of it in the first place.”