For continuing success, we veterinarians must be interactive and proactive with clients. Larger producers have taken advantage of economies of scale. They are controlling costs by spreading them over more units, and more market control. I think that’s where we’re headed, too. We, as practitioners, need to have similar philosophies that justify our service in these larger operations while we help smaller producers fit into the larger model of efficiency or niches.

For example, through management programs and informative seminars, we are educating our clients to properly perform their own herd vaccinations, treatments, and minor emergencies. This ultimately has helped us to become better partners in their own overall management and profitability. Likewise, it’s helped us decrease the time we spend on emergency services and increase the time we spend working efficiently and productively.

We have decreased the amount of miles put on our trucks by 15,000 miles per year and also decreased our average hours worked per week to 45. Basically, we are working smarter and well scheduled, but are doing a lot more units. Time is money and we need to make sure that we spend more time generating income, not looking out a windshield.

Herd work is the primary reason why we now go out into the country. Our investments have been in our haul-in facilities. I don’t think we’re unique there, but that facility has been the most steadfast for servicing the smaller producer, as well as for all semen testing on bulls and equine work, because it basically saves us another pickup and veterinarian and allows us to spend more time generating revenue.

We have found that clients can usually find a truck and trailer to haul their animals to us, and they get to the point where it’s just routine coming to the clinic.

Obviously there are scenarios where we have to go outside of the clinic, but even then it has to be for a well-established client with whom we have an obligation to service. The days of running 30 miles to look at one cow or one horse are no longer justifiable. The cost of facilities may be substantial up front, but when you look at the wear and tear on vehicles and windshield time too, you can justify some pretty elaborate ones. We trade pickups a whole lot less than we used to, too.

Consider Demographics, Adapt

There have been a lot of changes within the last four years and I believe the main thing we have to look at in our practices is how we can become more efficient while we keep an eye on the demographics of practice. This can be very difficult to do because demographics are often considered in hindsight rather than foresight.

We must be more cost conscious and efficient with our time, as well as creative in how we create revenue. Raising prices is an obvious fix, but not always easy to do without pricing yourself out of a job.

The bottom line is we need to mirror the changes that are taking place within agriculture and our communities and adapt our practices accordingly.

David Gourley has owned Whetstone Veterinary Service, LLC, a four-person mixed animal practice, for 16 years. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Missouri (UM) in animal science, with a focus on beef forage management and applied reproduction. He received his doctor of veterinary medicine in 1993, also from UM.

Gourley is a member of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association; American Veterinary Medical Association; Society for Theriogenology; American Association of Bovine Practitioners; American Association of Equine Practitioners; and the Academy of Rural Veterinarians. He serves on the Missouri State Veterinary Licensing Board, and is a Community First Bank and local school board member.

His wife, Melissa, also a veterinarian (MU 1996), is a partner in practice. They have three children, Mac, 14, Will, 12, and Marly, 11. The Gourleys also own and operate a 100-head Red Angus seedstock operation and hold an annual bull sale.