By Jennifer Jones

FOR MOST of our clients, calving is coming to an end, although I am writing this during my weekend on call, and have just come back from a caesarian, thankfully with a good outcome for both cow and calf.

Throughout this very unusual spring, I have been grateful that my job has been relatively unaffected by the Covid situation, in that my colleagues and I are still able to get out and about on farm, and maintain some social contact during what is usually quite an isolated time, and especially more so this year with no shows or events to look forward to as reward for all the long hours spent in the lambing and calving shed.

The weather has certainly helped this year, and it is always good to see calves and lambs, some of which my colleagues and I have helped deliver into the world, out doing well with the sun on their backs.

We usually have various vet students over lambing, however this year universities took the decision to cancel all placements. It is always nice to have students and get the chance to do a bit of real world application of knowledge and an extra pair of hands is always in need.

Last year, following the Brexit announcement, vets were added back onto the Shortage Occupation List. The shortage of vets in general, and especially graduates wanting to go into mixed or farm practice is a real worry, particularly for food production as many official veterinarians are foreign, and may not be easily replaced as the UK moves forward with the Brexit plan.

But why do less than 10% of UK graduates start a career in farm practice? Is it the on-call? The often physical out-in-all-weathers side of the job? Small animal practice certainly seems to have some advantages, little or quite often no call, better salaries and more often in better connected areas. Farm practice certainly requires a passion for the job, and a very good sense of humour is an essential, especially when soaked through, covered in muck, blood or most often both, and trying to dehorn the mental calf trying to turn the crush upside down.

Universities need to put more of an emphasis on farm practice during teaching as it is not always allocated the time that should be spent on it, especially given how important food production is. Much emphasis is on the individual students to find their own placements and experiences that will best benefit them for future jobs, which is definitely required as many practical skills are not taught well enough.

Perhaps universities also need to look at their intake criteria, as currently selecting for the very brightest does mean that there are a lot of very capable individuals that would make fantastic vets who do not manage to even get to apply for vet school. So how do we as a profession inspire the next generation of vet students into farm practice? Through incentives such as Glasgow University and the Solway Vets internship programme, through graduate schemes that some corporate groups run or making farm practice mandatory throughout the course?

Perhaps with corporate owned practices being the norm, graduates are also put off by no prospect of being able to buy into a practice very easily anymore, so there is less scope for career progression. It is heartening however to see new independent practices being started up, and good luck to Ross and Chris at Tinto Farm Vets, all the best for the future!

For me there was no other option, although I work in mixed practice, my main passion is for farm work. I find it an extremely rewarding career, and one that you can really make a difference in, not only at an individual level but at a herd or flock level, increasing efficiency which leads to an increase in profit for the farm business.

At a time with so much uncertainty, any improvements that lead to better efficiency are surely worthwhile, and any areas that need improvement are worth exploring during an annual heard health plan review with your vet. There is little better feeling than seeing a new born calf shake its head and after it has been calved or caesared and those moments certainly make up for all the midnight calls!

Throughout lockdown, my club, Peeblesshire Junior Agricultural Club, has kept busy, and we have stayed connected through many virtual quizzes and competitions. As secretary, I had a full syllabus planned for the club, and it was very disappointing to have to postpone these plans, but there is always next year, and in the meantime we’ve had some great quizzes, including some great throwback snapchats from nights out no one wants to remember!

I have been really impressed by everyone’s resilience and ability to adapt and cope through these strange times, but I do hope we can return to normal club activities in the not too distant future.