LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The North American International Livestock Exposition showcases more than 30,000 of the top livestock every year. The shortage of veterinarians taking care of those large animals is impacting both the farmer and our food system.
Kentucky ranks 8th in the nation in the beef cattle industry. So it comes as no surprise that there is a great need for cattle services, but the shortage of large animal veterinarians is impacting farmers.
“If there's no veterinarians out there, it becomes an animal health issue and animal welfare concern for practitioners not be able to get out to those areas and service those areas because they just have so many areas that they have to cover in a great distance," said Dr. Katie Flynn, state veterinarian for Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
According to Flynn, there are only 54 vets across the state dedicated to full-time services of large animals.
“Some of the hours, you have long hours especially if you have the middle of the night call, whether that's equine or cattle," Flynn said. "The salaries are also a challenge when you think of a large animal practitioner salary, you're looking at sixty to seventy thousand, when youre looking at a small animal may make ninety eight to one hundred thousand dollars to start.”
Flynn goes on to say that some areas don't have any veterinarians at all. That's exactly why industry representatives discussed ways to alleviate the shortage of vets including loan and incentive programs.
“So were looking at those porgrams and making sure we get the information out to practioners in the state of Kentucky in these rural areas that they can get help for, whether it's a truck purchase or purchasing into a new clinic or taking somebody's clinic over," Flynn said.
Although only 5% of veterinarians in the U.S. practice on large animals, their role is crucial with food safety and production practices.
“We are trying to protect our food supply and having veterinarians out in the field are our eyes and ears as we only have two veterinarians with the office of state veterinarian," Flynn said. "So when we don't have those eyes and ears in the field, we are concerned about food safety issues as well as foreign animal diseases entering our country.”
Flynn says they are putting working groups together to work on challenges indentified in the veterinary dialogue and flesh out those ideas.