Combining clinical, consultancy and training work in farm animal practice
In Greece my family were in shipping and although I had circumnavigated the globe twice with my parents by the age of six, the wonders of the seven seas were not for me. I wanted a land-based profession, preferably associated with surgery and medicine. I attended vet school at the University of Thessaloniki.
The day after qualifying in 1994, I got on a plane to London to begin a seven-month tour of UK veterinary practices as part of an EU-funded project. Its aim was to allow new graduates to experience working in the UK and I spent time with six practices in England, Scotland and Wales.
The experience confirmed to me that I wanted to work with cattle, particularly dairy cows. My first clinical post was in Devon, where I had supportive colleagues and met welcoming farmers, who were often curious to know where I was from. Once one of them called in the practice and said: ‘I saw your Indian vet in the town square the other day…’. Knowledge of geography may not have been his strongest point, but his love for his stock and progressiveness certainly were.
We became good friends and I was privileged to be asked to take on the routine herd health and fertility visits at his farm a few months later.
Two years ago – 23 years after qualifying – I set up my own company, Mendip Vets. I do a combination of clinical, consultancy and training work involving dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep.
Day-to-day clinical work may involve routine health and fertility visits, including a brief appraisal of the farm’s health and productivity. I may also carry out premovement testing, examine sick animals using endoscopy or ultrasound when called for, and finish off with a farm assurance plan. At this time of the year, I might semen test a ram or vasectomise one. Alternatively, I may be dynamically testing a milking parlour. If I’m on call, I’ll probably be hoping for a quiet night, but may be called to assist at a calving.
Training weeks involve teaching on-farm artifical insemination techniques, foot trimming, or the safe use of veterinary medicines. I also train vets in the use of endoscopy and ultrasound, and about hoofcare and surgery of the cow’s foot.
As a consultant farm animal vet I can combine clinical work with enterprise management, helping ensure a high standard of welfare for the animals. The ability to transfer knowledge from one species to another helps me to think outside the box.
"The ability to convey a message in a manner that makes people feel comfortable and at ease is essential"
There is little doubt that vets’ most important skill is communication. The ability to convey a message in a manner that makes people feel comfortable and at ease is essential and may even involve learning some of the farmers’ native language, such as I have done in Wales. Life is all about building bridges.
I expanded my work across the border because I have a keen interest in dairy, sucklers and sheep – and there are a lot them in Wales.
As professionals, we recognise the importance of improving performance and profitability through training for vets and farmers. This led me to become an approved Farming Connect Lifelong Learning and Development Programme course provider.
Having undertaken instructional skills training, I can now relate to the needs of businesses, using training as a tool for changing behaviour.
Advice for others
It’s a wonderful career we have, and I would advise young vets not to rush to focus on one species. It’s important to work with different animals and keep your options open.
As vets, we are excellent at our jobs, but in the eyes of the farmer or pet owner, really good vets are those who understand what is important to them.
Looking back, I’d also say that a business relationship is not necessarily for life. Listen and empathise, but don’t try to constantly patch things up. There is no shame in moving on and setting up the next business project.
My business plan is to retire in 20 years’ time when I am 70, with a successful practice behind me.
In the meantime, life is exhilarating, and every day can offer a career highlight, but I have to be careful not to let work become all consuming. I don’t spend enough time at home.
"I don’t have a work-life balance – if anyone has found the secret, please let me know"
Perhaps it goes without saying that if you share your life with someone, you need to support each other. My partner and I have been together for 13 years. She is a pillar of strength, and I would not have sailed through all the storms without her support. But the absolute truth is that I don’t have a work-life balance. If anyone has found the secret, please let me know!
One reason for this is that I have another job as as a commercial helicopter pilot. The highlight of my flying year is a certain music festival in Somerset, where I fly for the rich and famous. In fact, I have served the owner of that farm in my capacity as a clinician, as well as an ‘air chauffeur’.
Other memorable occasions include ferrying parachutists over the drop-zone of Bristol’s balloon fiesta, flying at over 4000 feet without the aircraft doors on. I did once impress a dairy client – he had ordered a box of intramammaries, which were delivered to him by air within minutes of him putting the phone down.
Aviation adds another skill-set to my clinical job. Understanding meteorology is a must when you fly and knowledge of it is an added bonus for farmers who want to forecast a reliable gap in the weather in order to decide when to make silage or harvest their crops.
If I weren’t a vet or a helicopter pilot, I would probably have followed the family tradition and be sailing the world in commercial shipping. However, this would be nowhere near as exciting as trying to calve a cow in the middle of the night, while her sole purpose is to kill you.