My career as a partner at a mixed practice
By the time I qualified I knew that I wanted to work in large animal practice in mid Wales and that I wanted a partnership. I also wanted to be able to offer a good service that was up to date and evidence based.
My career plan changed in 2001 during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. I happened to meet Dai Grove White who suggested I should apply for a residency in food producing animals at the University of Liverpool.
I enjoyed being back in a learning environment and also gained the RCVS certificate in sheep health and production, having been inspired by Agnes Winter’s passion for sheep.
Having completed the residency, the opportunity to run the university’s farm animal practice and hospital was too good an opportunity to miss. I was able to have the responsibility of running a practice with the benefit of having the university to help guide me in difficult decisions.
Returning to clinical practice
Although I enjoyed the job, it wasn’t in Wales, so I decided to return to clinical practice with Trefaldwyn Vets. It was the right choice for me and within two years I became a partner.
Nowadays, we have approximately 200 farming clients. The dairy side is around the 35 farm mark, with the herd size varying from one farmer who milks over 1000 cows (and is rapidly increasing this figure) to the smallest who milks about 16 animals.
The remaining farms are pretty evenly split between beef and sheep. We have a good mix of pedigree Limousin beef units, commercial suckler herds and calf rearers raising youngstock.
As far as our sheep work is concerned, we have a number of elite breeders as well as intensive commercial flocks and hill farmers.
Fire brigade work – calvings, lambings and sick cows – has reduced over the years as job of a farm vet now focuses on preventive medicine. For example, we are doing more and more pelvic measuring in heifers with the aim of avoiding dystocia.
"We spend so much time at work, it’s important that we are happy doing what we do"
Another important part of my work is working closely with nutritionists, making sure that dry cows receive an optimum diet. And at least two days a week are taken up with TB testing, which is a necessary evil. I’m sad to say that this aspect of our work gets more and more depressing as the gap in the working relationship between private practitioners and the APHA widens.
As for the rest of the week, it is usually split between on-farm work and office work, such as writing articles for In Practice on topics such as anaesthesia of pigs and small ruminants.
The variation in both clinical challenges and the clients I work with are the best bits of my job.
Veterinary practices are businesses but they don’t run themselves – we also want to look after our staff. We recently employed a practice manager, which we should probably have done years ago. Although I’m passionate about independent practice, there are aspects of the corporate structure that we need to adopt.
New graduates needs structure – it’s not just about providing support around their clinical work, but also in their day-to-day lives. We need to make sure they are happy.
We spend so much time at work, it’s important that we are happy doing what we do.
Staffing and recruitment are our biggest challenges. It’s difficult to find the vets to help us cope with the increasing workload.
What’s the most important skill you have you acquired?
Communication. We need the courage to advise farmers that in order to resolve a problem, they need to do x, y and z. It’s important to gain the trust of our clients, and it’s okay to become friends with them, so long as we maintain a professional relationship.
What’s been your career highlight?
I worked with one of our farm clients to eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) virus on his 2000+ head dairy herd, which was spread over seven different sites.
We did this with the help of Idexx, which antigen tested all the calves. We tested any dams of calves that were positive for BVD, we reviewed the vaccination regime and improved biosecurity. In doing this, we managed to reduce the farm’s antibiotic use by 29 per cent, massively improved fertility and reduced neonatal and postnatal disease.
This achievement led to my winning the 2018 Farmers Weekly farm adviser of the year award.
What are your career aspirations?
Alongside maintaining a vibrant and up-to-date practice, I want to undertake the certificate in cattle health and production.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I try to leave work at work and take regular holidays with the family – spending time with my young family is important to me. My mantra is ‘work hard and play hard’. I also enjoy socialising, reading and maintaining my smallholding.
Would you recommend your job to a school leaver?
Definitely, it’s a great job. It is hard work, but we work with great people and we spend our time in a beautiful environment. Generally, we are kept healthy as it is a physical job, and it’s also a social job – although some farmers can get you down as they are not always the most positive people.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay positive; don’t over stress and apply for a university residency after two years in practice.
If you weren’t a vet, what would you be?
I’d be an antiques auctioneer.
1999: Graduated from Liverpool vet school
1999: Worked with cattle and sheep in mixed practice in mid Wales
2001: Residency in food-producing animals and gained the RCVS certificate in sheep health and production
2005: Ran Liverpool university’s farm animal practice and hospital
2007: Joined Trefaldwyn Vets as an assistant
2009: Became a practice partner, predominantly working with large animals with small animal work limited to out-of-hours
2010-2016: Joined the board of the British Cattle Veterinary Association and had a role on the Red Tractor dairy board
2015: On the board of BVD Wales
2018: Farmers Weekly farm animal adviser of the year