Do you enjoy being outdoors? Does travelling around the countryside to treat sick animals and provide advice on disease prevention and the welfare of animals appeal to you?
If so, you might want to explore farm veterinary work in more detail below.
What are the main responsibilities and opportunities working as a farm animal vet?
Most farm animal vets work in clinical practice, looking after the needs of their client’s livestock. This can range from treatment of sick individual animals to giving advice on herd level approaches to prevent disease and improve welfare.
Regular visits to farms to assess health and review progress with the farmer form a key part of the working day. Building a relationship with clients and understanding their business is an important part of farm work. Poultry and pig practice tend to be more specialist with the focus on the population level work and less individual animal cases.
There are increasing opportunities in the wider livestock agriculture sector either from within a 'traditional' practice job or working in other businesses. Many farm vets will provide consultancy to large farms and agri-businesses as well as other businesses in the supply chain, for example many supermarkets use vets to inform policies and work with their suppliers.
What do I need to consider if I want to pursue a career in farm animal practice?
Deciding which farm animals you are most interested in is a good start. Generally farm vets specialise by species rather than discipline - a pig vet or sheep vet, rather than medicine or surgery.
Work in clinical farm practice will generally involve travelling to farms and working outside in a variety of conditions so a willingness to travel and work independently and tolerate the weather is useful. With the increasing use of technology and data by farmers, farm vets will also spend time working at a computer analysing data and report writing, so being happy with this aspect of the work is important too.
Clinical farm work is inevitably based near livestock dense areas and so while you will not necessarily need to live in a rural location some flexibility in terms of location will be important.
What is important to consider when choosing extra-mural studies (EMS)?
There are lots of practical skills in farm animal practice that take time to develop. Making the most of opportunities through EMS to practice techniques will be beneficial. EMS is also a great opportunity to try and appreciate the variety of work carried out by farm vets and the different types of clinical practice that are available.
It can be hard to appreciate in short EMS placements, but trying to get an understanding of how the vet is involved with the farm as a business would be helpful. Finally, particularly people with limited animal handling experience, ensuring that both animal husbandry and clinical EMS placements involve a lot of animal handling will be really useful.
Do I need to do an internship or residency? Are there any additional qualifications required?
No additional qualifications are needed, although many farm vets work towards additional qualifications.
Both farm animal internships and residencies are available although not essential. It is increasingly common for farm practices to offer internships as a new graduate job to acknowledge the additional support and training that can be required. Not all internships or new graduate jobs are the same, so it is worth clarifying exactly what is required of you and what support and training will be offered.
After the first few years in practice employers will tend to be more interested in what experience and competencies you have rather than whether you completed an internship or not. There is currently not a well-developed referral model in farm animal practice in the UK. Residencies tend to be done more for personal development and possibly to open the door to jobs outside of practice rather than being important for practice jobs. Many of the common clinical farm animal additional qualifications can be completed in practice.
Find out more about internships and residencies
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a small private practice compared to a much larger practice?
In terms of the type of work that is carried out on a day-to-day basis there is unlikely to be much difference in caseload. There are currently not as many large groups in farm animal practice as there are in small animal practice, although this is changing rapidly.
There is some argument that larger practices might have more structured support and training available as part of a large team of recent graduates, with the counter argument being that smaller practices might provide more personalised support. This will vary from practice to practice and group to group more than a specific model of practice.
What is the level of support I could expect as a new graduate?
This will vary massively from job to job. Practices tend to expect to provide support and training early on and the amount will depend in part on the practice and also on your confidence and experience. Because most work is carried out on the farm you will often be expected to work independently quite early on but support is often provided over the phone if needed, with in-person back up available as required.
What are the opportunities for career development?
Career development depends on your own aspirations. Many vets develop clinical interests and do further qualifications. This often enables a degree of specialisation within a practice with vets leading specific areas or launching new initiatives within a practice. These can span from running a farmer discussion group or launching a new service to getting involved in international consultancy.
In terms of non-clinical career development, this will depend again on aspirations and the business you work for. Salaries and position in the practice will tend to increase with experience. Opportunities to take on managerial or leadership responsibilities may be available as well as a move in to other aspects of the livestock agricultural sector.