Expanding the role of a vet nurse working with farm animals

Anna Ashworth vet nurse
Having grown up on a small farm, I’ve always been surrounded by animals – beef cattle, sheep and horses. Inevitably, this meant I also got to meet and watch vets at work. I remember being absolutely fascinated and loved it when they gave me instructions on what to do to help nurse our animals back to health.

At primary school, I learned what veterinary nurses (VNs) do. A combination of working with animals and the fact that no two days were the same appealed to me.

Qualifying as a vet nurse

However, progressing through school, I decided to study art and graphic design at university. Although I enjoyed it, by the time I graduated I knew I couldn’t spend all my time at a desk and away from animals.

To help clear my mind, I went travelling and ended up in Australia, where I was surrounded by wildlife. It cemented my decision to train as a VN. Back home I got a position as a trainee at a mixed practice in Skipton, North Yorkshire, and started college two weeks later. I qualified in 2010.

Shaping my role

Once qualified, I enjoyed the way my role developed. I particularly enjoyed medical nursing and being out on farms, as well as doing the practice lab work. Although VNs often assist vets doing large animal surgeries, I thought there was more I could offer, so I decided to do some further training.

I moved to Dalehead Vets in Settle to take on the varied role of a farm veterinary technician. Apart from running a busy in-house lab and training other nurses to run tests with me, I also have a welfare role on farms, monitoring lameness and completing calf health checks. As we have surgical and inpatient facilities at the practice, I do everything that a small animal VN does, but with farm animals.

When it comes to lab work, I’m a bit of a geek – I love it – and it’s a really useful skill. Spending hours studying parasites under the microscope means we can offer targeted treatment for livestock.

"One of the challenges I still come across – from colleagues and clients – is that they’re not always aware of what it is that VNs do"

I work closely with a vet running a flock health club that provides farmers with the latest information on sheep issues. And we benchmark flock performance, which allows farmers to compare figures with similar farms. They like to know how they’re doing and find it an interesting process.

Importance of data

My job also has an investigative aspect, which involves collecting information and data and working through problems with the vets and farmers. It’s similar to clinical monitoring, observing a hospitalised animal’s wellbeing.

Data are a big part of farm practice and essential to inform vets so they can highlight to farmers areas where improvements could be made. Recording husbandry and housing, vaccination protocols, growth rates, disease incidence and calf mortality are critical.

Data also inform the work I’ve been doing on the responsible use of anthelmintics. We (the practice and our farmers) have built up several years’ data on treatments and the results of worm egg counts. We’re now expanding this research by looking at the fluke risk season for different areas covered by the practice.

Career development

Professional development keeps me motivated and enthusiastic. I’m a ‘suitably qualified person’ which means I can prescribe POM-VPS (presription-only medicines/veterinarian, pharmacist, SQP) for companion, farm animals, poultry and equines.

Anna Ashworth
I’m also a registered mobility scorer for cattle and an MSD Animal Health sheep lameness adviser. Additional qualifications like these give me the opportunity to engage with clients through meetings and to present practical workshops for farmers and smallholders.

This is where my graphic design skills come in handy, producing artwork, leaflets and invitations for our health and welfare clubs. Marketing is important: as an independent practice we’re competing with corporate practices with big budgets, so we need to get it right.

Time for recognition

I’ve been very lucky to work in supportive practices, but one of the challenges I still come across – from colleagues and clients – is that they’re not always aware of what it is that VNs do.

It’s one reason why I’m always pushing to do more on-farm work, including completing the routine monitoring required by some retail-led schemes and milk contracts. Happily, farmers are increasingly recognising how useful performance recording can be to their business.

Looking ahead, I want to learn more about camelids and get experience of working with them. I also want to train to do Schedule 3 procedures – developing surgical skills for minor surgeries such as stitch-ups. I’ve always enjoyed wound care so I’d like to learn more about surgical debridement and suturing techniques for wound management. Our farm practice is very proactive and keen to do research projects, which I’m looking forward to being involved with.

Winning the Petplan Vet Nurse of the Year award has highlighted the role of large animal VNs. It’s great to be recognised, especially for doing something I enjoy so much. I work with a great team of people in a really friendly practice in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and it’s true – no two days are ever the same.

Back to Categories