How do we maximize beef production per acre on our ranch?”
That’s what a sizeable ranch client asked Arn Anderson, DVM a couple of years ago. The fact that a client would pose the question speaks to an intimate level of trust. The fact that Anderson was in a position to respond to such a complex inquiry speaks to the evolution of Anderson and his partners’ Cross Timbers Veterinary Hospital at Bowie, Texas.
“We’ve been in transition for several years, moving away from a rural, fire engine type of practice towards one more involved in management,” Anderson says.
More specifically, the folks at Cross Timbers are working to be the hub of their clients’ businesses rather than merely a spoke in the proverbial wheel.
In the aforementioned case, Anderson and his partners relied on their own veterinary expertise and production experience. But they also helped assemble other necessary experts in areas such as range science and nutrition. Anderson emphasizes that finding answers to such questions also depends heavily on records.
That simple question demanding such a complex answer also underscores the opportunity available to progressive veterinarians.
“The technical side of our business will never go away, but the knowledge side of it will continue to grow in value,” explains Larry Hollis, DVM, Extension Beef Veterinarian at Kansas State University. “You have to be able to integrate veterinary medicine into a client’s business. But to do so you have to know about their business.”
Such necessity favors practices with multiple practitioners and diverse areas of expertise.
When Hollis graduated in 1972, he explains, “Practices were already figuring out that it wasn’t economically sustainable to have a practice in every town. Plus, in a single-vet practice, you could never take a day off or rotate emergency duties.”
Cross Timbers, for instance, is a three-veterinarian practice and is expanding via a unique distance-mentoring business model (more later).
When Michael Whitehair, DVM arrived at Abilene Animal Hospital (AAH), Abilene, Kan., in 1974 there was he and one other veterinarian. Today there are seven, including an epidemiologist and three swine consultants. Keep in mind, there’s not much swine business left in the county, but veterinarians here identified and filled a broader industry need.
“We recognized there would be an increasing need to serve clients with more specialized knowledge,” Whitehair explains.
As concentration increases in the cattle business, so does the need for expertise that is more than a mile wide and inch deep, as Whitehair terms it. “I still serve the same number of cows as when I started, but now there are only about 15 percent as many producers,” he says.
“As operations grow in size, there is a need for more input from veterinarians on a more frequent basis,” Hollis says. He adds, “With more cattle in fewer hands, it becomes more affordable for producers to include a veterinarian as part of their management team.”
Consider the growing number of resident veterinarians in the world of corporate cattle feeding, where consulting veterinarians continue to be utilized alongside the resident veterinarian.
Consider, too, the distance diagnostics offered by some veterinarians who train lay people to necropsy feedlot deads, then ship pictures/video to a central office where consulting veterinarians provide the diagnosis.
“I look for more practices to offer that service to their clients, in order to provide them with more frequent interaction,” Hollis says.
“There will always be a place in the business for smaller production units,” Whitehair explains. But he emphasizes it’s the larger ones that will drive the business and increase efficiency with numbers. “Who better to be the integral part of such management than the veterinarian?” he asks.
Think of crop agriculture, Whitehair says. The days are long gone when the discussion was about this seed or that one, which fertilizer and what herbicide. Instead, crop production represents a holistic approach, integrating all of those and more into every interrelated decision.
“All we have to do is envision that same model in our world,” Whitehair says.
It’s the kind of model that Cross Timbers embraces.