"I knew I was doing everything for my clients that I’d been taught in vet school and they still weren’t profitable,” says John Groves, DVM, of Livestock Veterinary Service at Eldon, Mo.

He’d returned to his hometown to join his dad’s mixed practice after graduating in 1992. By the time he made the above observation, he’d been a veterinarian for going on a decade. He saw that the poultry industry had been vertically integrated for a long time already. The pork industry was well along that same path.

In some ways, the vertical transition is similar to the paradigm shifting going on these days. As Dr. Groves, says, “We’ve gotten to the point where many of us recognize the changes we’re seeing in the beef industry are fundamental rather than cyclical.”

Dr. Groves visited with executives from an animal health company. He asked them where they thought the cattle business would be in Missouri ten years down the road. The crux of the answer was a belief that most of the cattle in the state would be influenced at one stage or another by eight or ten veterinarians.

 

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He set out to figure out how he might be one of those eight or ten.

“That’s when I started looking for resources and found the Beef Cattle Production Management Series at Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center,” Dr. Groves says.

Understanding his clients’ business more completely and helping them manage those businesses beyond traditional animal health made sense to him. He says he was also blessed with having producers in his practice area way smarter than him.

“Growth in my practice has come from having clients who are successful and have grown their operations, not by trying to find new  clients,” Dr. Groves explains. “My clients are successful because they’re not afraid of change or to leverage changes they believe will come along.”

These clients are primarily stocker producers. Dr. Grove’s practice is about 80 percent stocker and 20 percent cow-calf.

Another epiphany for Dr. Groves came at a BVD (bovine viral diarrhea) symposium several years back. It was when technology was finally available to help producers control and potentially eradicate BVD.

He listened for two days as the best and brightest minds shared the latest in BVD information and described new technological opportunities. He remembers the last speaker saying, “…if only we had veterinary professionals who were willing to implement this technology.”

The next day, at a producer meeting where a condensed version of the BVD session was offered, producers listened and were excited about the opportunity. But Dr. Groves recalls, “They all said it was technology they could use but they were pretty sure their veterinarians back home wouldn’t. I decided I didn’t want to be one of those veterinarians.

“That was a gut check, the one that taught me that as veterinary professionals, we weren’t doing a good job keeping up with a rapidly changing beef industry.” He points out progressive commercial producers are often the first to recognize and exploit the business opportunities presented by new technology.

“Producers drive change,” Dr. Groves says. “Veterinarians need to tune into what their clients need. We need to look at what our best clients are doing.”

It might be records collection and analysis. It might be BVD testing. It might be genomics.

“When I figure out what they need, I go live it,” Dr. Groves says.

“I don’t think there has ever been more opportunity for veterinary education,” Dr. Groves says. “I see plenty of talent coming out of vet school, and I see plenty of opportunity to get the tools you need to learn as a practicing veterinarian.”

For Dr. Groves, practicing outside the box, so to speak, offers the chance to have broader, deeper relationships with his clients.

“Going from a veterinarian trained to pull calves and treat sick ones to having the opportunity to sit at the client’s management table is exciting,” Dr. Groves says.

 

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