Can Bovine Vets Survive a Decline of Small Dairy and Beef Operations?
The Wisconsin Department of Dairy, Trade and Consumer Protection reported the loss of 691 dairies in 2018—a calendar year loss of 7.9%, according to recent reporting from milkbusiness.com. And the beef market has also experienced declines in small cow-calf and feedlot operations—a scary proposition, as 2012 Census of Agriculture data reported 91.4% of cattle operations have fewer than 100 cows, and they account for about 46% of cows in the U.S. (2017 Census Data, which was expected early this year, has been delayed, in part because of the government shutdown in the early part of the year. Cattle Final estimates and Milk Cows and Production Final Estimates are expected March 5.)
As some of these small agricultural businesses fail, what does this mean for the future of bovine veterinarians?
One veterinarian writes, “I struggle with cash flow—charging enough to keep the practice afloat while remaining affordable to my clients in an area where animal agriculture is struggling.”
Another says, “Government loan guarantees, the push to specialize at vet schools and the incredible change in commercial food animal production are all important factors to drive the local farm vet into extinction.”
A third veterinarian points to low milk prices as a particular pinch point that puts farm ownership out of reach for the next generation of prospective dairy farmers.
“The sad part of life is most of these farms going out of business were in the process of transitioning farms into the next generation, and they are unable to financially sustain operation with same number of animals,” he writes. “These are good farm families in an environment that does not support this type of entity! Is this good or bad for society as a whole? Local community agriculture businesses are going to be a rarity, including veterinary practices. Is the consumer aware of the situation, and should the industry be concerned?
“The loss of dairy small family farms, especially this past year, has had a huge impact on the veterinary profession. A veterinarian needs clients to serve to have a profitable practice. I would worry more about the loss of farmers, especially the next generation who are trying to purchase the farm and are experiencing inadequate income from milk sales to do so.
“The shortage of large animal veterinarians is directly related to the low food prices of end products being produced on the farm. Dairy is in the midst of a severe crisis in loss of transitional young generation farmers who financially cannot take over the farm with present low milk prices. Most of food animal agriculture is being had by mega-farms. The loss of active clients has made it difficult to maintain employment for veterinarians in dairy practice.”