N.C. State vet school grooming farm vets
Posted December 10, 2010 5:03 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2010 10:05 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — At any given moment at the Brush Creek Swiss Farm in Siler City, a small herd of brown Swiss cows is hard at work.
“With this herd, right now, each cow per year is making about 18,000 pounds of milk,” dairy farmer Karen Jordan says. “We can make a lot of glasses of milk, even with our small herds.”
Keeping the herd healthy keeps the cattle efficient and the food supply safe. The fewer medicines used to treat the animals, the better it is for the people who drink the milk.
Veterinarians play an important role in keeping the food supply safe, but North Carolina and states across the country are experiencing a critical shortage of vets who specialize in treating large animals, such as cattle, goats and pigs that are used for food.
In the western and far eastern parts of North Carolina, entire counties don't have a single large-animal vet. In the southeastern part of the state, there is a large concentration of food animals, yet very few doctors to care for them.
For example, Wayne County has two vets for nearly 543,000 food animals, while Wake County has 13 vets for fewer than 5,000 food animals.
North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is leading the way to fill that need, having become one of the first vet schools in the country to focus students on food animals.
Six students and two alternates are chosen for the Food Animal Scholars Program each year.
These students show a desire to work with food animals, have good grades and get guaranteed admission into the vet school.
“I like being outside, and I've always grown up with big animals,” third-year student Harrison Dudley said. “I think I can handle them a little bit better than a dog or a cat.”
The students' impact on farms can be immediate after graduation.
“When you get out there and you're interacting with producers – and the farm is their life – you feel like you've made a deeper connection with them,” first-year student Andrea Watson said.
Recent moves in Congress might increase programs such as this.
The U.S. Senate recently passed a food safety bill that will increase plant inspections and, therefore, the need for these types of food-animal veterinarians.