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Working together with nutritionists on dairy farms—can't we all get along (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2011

I have had the great opportunity to work professionally in a variety of positions including private practice veterinarian, extension veterinarian, and tech service nutritionist for a major feed company. These experiences have provided me with the chance to experience both the good and the bad of interactions between veterinarians and nutritionists on dairy farms. While performing my industry job, I also saw many surveys that listed both veterinarians and nutritionists as the dairy farmer's most important sources of trusted information. This demonstrates the importance of both professions within a successful dairy operation and underlines the importance of the need of the professionals working on a dairy farm to find ways to work together to help each other, the dairy farmer, and the cows. The following discussion will hopefully shed some light on how veterinarians and dairy nutritionists perceive themselves and one another in their roles on their clients' dairy farms. With better understanding, comes the potential that we can build proactive teams that help our dairy farmers to be productive and profitable.

As a personal anecdote, as a new veterinarian working in central New York I was vaccinating cows in a tie-stall barn along with the farmer. His nutritionist came in the door at the far end of the barn, so he left me to carry on by myself as he went to discuss feed questions with the nutritionist. As I went to vaccinate the next cow, I suddenly found myself knocked head over heels by a double-barreled mule kick to the chest. The farmer sheepishly said, "Sorry about that doc, she's a wild one." At that moment I told myself that I would improve my understanding and abilities in the field of dairy nutrition so I ended up the one uninjured, clean, and serving as source of information for the dairyman rather than the one in the gutter with hoof prints on my chest! While I love doing traditional veterinary practice, I also love dairy nutrition and trying to find ways to prevent problems rather than fix them after the fact. I would encourage veterinarians and veterinary students to seriously look at the potential of offering nutritional services as part of your practice. As the role of the dairy veterinarian changes with time we need to look for other areas on the dairy that we can be of service to our clients. We have the ability and education to provide nutritional information to our clients. With a little bit of additional training and some dedication to learning the art of dairy nutrition we can do it – don't be scared by your initial perceived lack of knowledge.

With all that said, you may not want to get involved in dairy nutrition to the extent of putting together rations for your dairy farms. That is fine – there are a lot of very qualified nutritionists working on the same dairies we service. The focus of this discussion is for you. How can you better understand the nutritionists working on those dairies so you can form a winning team to help your dairy farmers be successful? That is where both you and the nutritionist should be focusing. We can't let professional jealousy or ego get in the way of the success of our clients and the health of their cows!