Veterinary career in poultry medicine
During my veterinary studies I had always thought I would end up working in farm animal practice and, more specifically, cattle practice. Combining my love of the outdoors and working with animals seemed to me to be a perfect job. That was until I spent time with St David’s Poultry Team doing extramural studies (EMS).
Hooked on poultry practice
After a week seeing poultry practice – with no surgeries or 15-minute consultations – at a company that offered a real career structure, and working with farmers with enough money and desire to invest and change the way they did things, I was sold.
I feel lucky to now work at this practice with a good team of people, in particular, my boss Alan Beynon. After taking me out in that first EMS week, he and I talked about what being a poultry vet was; we discussed health plans with clients over cups of tea, stomped around wet and muddy fields looking at pheasants, and generally put the world to rights.
During my last placement several months later, I approached him and asked for a job. He took a punt and offered me a position there and then! I am grateful to him for that initial start and for continuing to challenge me and question my decisions every day. Without a doubt his experience has rubbed off on me and allowed me to progress within the practice and wider industry.
Gamebird medicine specialism
After several years of learning on the job, I seemed to steer towards gamebird medicine as a specialism within the sector. Continuing professional development (CPD) is a big part of poultry medicine and so we are always given plenty of opportunities to develop our interest in specific areas.
The company recently created a board of directors, and I have now taken on the role of director of gamebirds. It demonstrates career progression and an opportunity to entrust responsibility and ownership to individual vets.
With this new role my job has changed slightly, but generally my days consist of two or three site visits, meetings with clients or colleagues and planning for the future of the business. My work has always been varied and interesting from the start. In a day, site visits can mean I travel from one side of the country to the other seeing turkeys, broilers, gamebirds and layer chickens, or alternatively, I might spend the day meeting with industry organisations.
"I would encourage any vet who is feeling discouraged, wants a change, likes innovation or fancies trying something they’ve never previously considered, to cast a thought to being a poultry vet"
The ethos at St David’s is that prevention is better than cure and we have led the way in developing protocols for the poultry industry in controlling the use of antibiotics. We work closely with advisory boards and are proactive at developing and introducing new nutraceuticals to the market to support this aim. I enjoy the daily veterinary aspect of my job, but also like being involved in other parts of the business, such as strategy, marketing and product development.
Over the past 12 months, I have also worked at PrognostiX, one of the associated companies founded by St David’s. It is an agritech company specialising in wireless sensors, data collection and analytics.
As a practice, we felt we needed to know more about our clients’ farms to better equip them with the tools to improve animal husbandry and welfare. Using this technology, I can get a deeper understanding of the key environmental, health and management parameters that affect the birds’ performance. This insight allows us to predict health trends to prevent disease and ultimately changes the way we interact with our clients.
Encouraging vets to work in poultry sector
We know that we need to encourage more vets to work in the poultry sector. In response to this need along with having recognised the lack of poultry medicine in the university curriculum, the practice set up a successful internship programme. And, as part of increasing engagement with students, I now teach poultry medicine lectures at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). It is a privilege to pass on my excitement for this industry and the career prospects that are available.
Of course, no job is perfect. My most challenging times have been in the past 18 months trying to reduce antibiotic use. In this scenario – in some clients’ eyes – the vet is the bad guy for not handing out antibiotics freely. This has led to some heated discussions, but I have learnt that by working through difficult situations and offering an alternative way, clients understand how improvements can be made holistically. It has been encouraging that larger producers within our industry have come to us requesting a reduction in antibiotic use. In the gamebird industry alone last year, we reduced our antibiotic use by 36 per cent.
"It has been encouraging that larger producers within our industry have come to us requesting a reduction in antibiotic use"
Balancing work and life is always a constant battle in any job. It has taken quite a while for me to learn that no matter how many hours you put in, the pile of paperwork is just as big and that there will always be tasks to complete.
Two years after I graduated I was very stressed and exhausted from the daily pressures of work. As a result, I started to get anxious and angry, but in talking with non-veterinary friends I have learnt how to switch off from work. Having made this change, my days became more productive, I gained a more positive outlook and my colleagues were more willing to help. In hindsight, I think this could be something many vets go through, but no-one had warned me that I might experience this. At St David’s we have tried to address this issue by creating a matrix of mentors who are there to support younger members of staff.
I certainly have not regretted any part of my career so far, except perhaps for the pain of the large monthly deductions taken by the Student Loans Company!
I would encourage any vet who is feeling discouraged, wants a change, likes innovation or fancies trying something they’ve never previously considered, to cast a thought to being a poultry vet.