For a number of years, I have been very concerned about the declining number of large-animal veterinarians in my area. For those of us who make a living from livestock production, having the availability of a physician who is capable and willing to make farm calls any time, and in any kind of weather, is essential to our bottom line. I may have learned the reason why their numbers are dwindling.
Last summer, a neighbor called my wife to see if she was still interested in a couple of free kittens. Since our old barn cat is almost 17 years old, Judy jumped at the chance to get some replacement mousers and give them the opportunity to train under the best. The neighbor brought over two young male kittens, which had been rescued from being dumped in a road ditch by her house, and they soon acclimated to the Crownover farm.
Being a responsible pet owner (plus, not wanting the little guys to go AWOL from their farm job for two months every spring), Judy called the vet’s office last week to set up an appointment to get the two young tomcats neutered. When she took them in, the receptionist asked if we wanted them wormed and vaccinated while they were there. Judy agreed, and then sent me to pick them up and pay for the procedure later that afternoon. When I arrived at the vet clinic, the nice lady at the front desk helped me put the drowsy felines in a carrier and we proceeded to the front desk to pay my bill.
Presented with the bill, I’m sure I looked as addled as the two drugged-out kitties in the box.
“How much?” I asked.
She repeated the number that I thought I had heard the first time.
“Are you sure?” I asked again.
She looked over the itemized bill again and assured me that the total was correct. Weakly, I reached for my checkbook.
On the way home, I began to analyze the cost of the procedure in my mind. The total cost, per cat, was more than I paid the last veterinarian to drive to my farm, on a Saturday afternoon, in the snow and sleet, to pull a backwards-presented calf…and that was to work on animals that would, hopefully, make some money.
I once had aspirations of becoming a large-animal veterinarian because my dad held the good ones in such high esteem, but my first chemistry course in college persuaded me to pursue another vocation. However, had I spent eight years in college and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on that education, why would I want to spend two hours driving to a farm to perform really hard physical labor, in the most extreme weather conditions, and be in constant danger of getting seriously hurt, to make the same money I could make in the climate-controlled comfort of my office in about 30 minutes? I’m surprised we have any cow vets left, at all.
One thing I do know, I can’t afford any more free kittens.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’