“Exporting has helped us sustain our practice during the drought,” says Travis McCarty, DVM, one of four veterinarians at the Ashland Veterinary Center at Ashland, Kan.

“Having four veterinarians allows us to devote one veterinarian to these projects full time, and they are projects,” explains Dr. McCarty, who is the designated export manager in the Ashland practice.

In simple terms, the exports Dr. McCarty has managed for export to Russia and Eastern Europe (about a third beef cattle and the remainder dairy) comprises quarantine groups of 1,500-6,000 head of cattle. The quarantine lasts about a month, with cattle going through the chute two, three or four times, depending on the export destination and other factors. A federal veterinarian inspects the cattle when they load out for the port at Galveston, Texas. Just the logistics of coordinating 70 semis or so takes a fair effort. The whole process revolves around having cattle at the port to meet a ship that has been lined up months in advance. Missing the shipping date incurs economic penalties that quickly run into six figures, whether you drop the ball on the first day of the process or the last.

“We’ve had two quarantines going on at the same time,” Dr. McCarty says.

“We strive to coordinate all activities with the accredited veterinarian, testing laboratory, isolation facility, export and department of agriculture,” Dr. Kirkham says. “In Kansas, an accredited veterinarian works with state and federal authorities who make sure requirements are met and efforts are maximized.”

“Vets communicate regularly with us. We coordinate the test results and coordinate with the state department of agriculture,” Dr. Kirkham says. The APHIS office also coordinates a massive amount of requisite data, from the electronic individual animal ID numbers, to testing dates, to test results. That effort has become easier for her office and the veterinarians involved through development and introduction of what is called Mobile Information Management Software which veterinarians can use chute-side via a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

For veterinarians interested in becoming part of the export process, Dr. McCarty explains the bottom line challenge is, “Coming up with a plan to get everything accomplished for the health certificate in a short period of time without compromising animal welfare."

Dr. McCarty starts with the shipping date and works backwards identifying when each of the preceding and necessary steps must be complete.

“Countries often negotiate their requirements for import with the U.S.,” Dr. Kirkham says. “These requirements often outline items such as isolation (quarantine) period, testing regimes, vaccination protocols, identification requirements, as well as the completion of an international health certificate by an accredited veterinarian.”

In the case of the Russian exports, cattle can only come from states accredited to be free of bovine tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis. Before cattle are purchased and before they can enter quarantine, Dr. McCarty says they have to be bled for bovine leukosis virus. A second leukosis test must be conducted 30 days later, along with TB testing and bleeding for Johne’s and brucellosis while in quarantine.

Through it all, Dr. McCarty explains a Russian veterinarian is on hand to monitor the process.

“You need to put together the inventory, have all of the cattle identified and present the data to the USDA veterinarian,” Dr. McCarty says. “They determine if the cattle are acceptable for quarantine.”

Not only are tests expensive, there is fallout, of course. Dr. McCarty has seen a fallout as high as 15 percent for leukosis and as low as 2 percent.

“Everyone knows how to bleed cattle, how to do a TB test,” Dr. McCarty says. “Data management is the biggest learning curve, getting the health certificate together and working with the quarantine facility (feedyards at Guymon, OK, and Montezuma, KS, in their case) to make sure the cattle are taken care of.”

The facilities he works with have great crews. Still, cattle care is an ongoing challenge with that many cattle going through the chute for so many times, for so many tests in such a short period. Throughout this process, Dr. McCarty adds that the new cattle owners are looking for every way possible to shave days from the process.

Spare puts it this way: “The need for veterinarians isn’t so much whether you’re a capable veterinarian as it is the need for people who can communicate cross-culturally with people who don’t necessarily know anything about cattle, what stress does to them, production efficiency or how we as Americans process information to find solutions."

According to Dr. McCarty, the boat ride to Russia usually takes about 21 days. Then there is a 21-day quarantine in Russia. In the case of bred females, they ship when they are about five months pregnant so they won’t calve in transit or in either quarantine.

Export demand has been strong enough at times that the folks in Ashland have expanded their program by subcontracting some of the work. If demand strength continues, Dr. McCarty says they may consider more subcontracting.

Given how much time the process takes, though, Dr. McCarty says, “I think it would be tough for a single practitioner to do it.”