As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, cattlemen increasingly see themselves as “food producers.” Meanwhile, bovine practitioners must, and are, changing their mindset from just treating sick cattle to being proactive purveyors of wellness programs for cattle.
Bovine practitioners are increasingly moving into “production medicine,” and are being asked to assist and advise their clients in making veterinary medical decisions that may have a profound impact on the producer’s economic bottom line. Client communications will be a key element in helping bovine practitioners continue this transition, but such communications must be proactive.
In the past, bovine veterinarians responded to calls to treat sick or non-productive animals in an after-the-fact situation. Today’s economic and social environment, which is driven by the consumers of beef products, demand that producers and their veterinarians practice more wellness (preventive) medicine programs.
In fact, many practices have moved to offering “herd health programs,” but even many of these practices haven’t yet initiated an ongoing, regular proactive client communication program. Nor is a proactive practice marketing program part of their herd health programs.
What difference does it make if bovine practitioners are proactive with either current or potential new clients? According to the 2007 National Animal Health Monitoring Survey (NAHMS) Beef/Cow-Calf report:
1. More than 60% of all operations did not vaccinate calves for anything prior to weaning.
2. More than 70% of all operations did not conduct a breeding soundness exam on their bulls.
3. More than 80% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for any reproductive diseases.
4. More than 80% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for any respiratory diseases.
5. 75% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for the respiratory/reproductive diseases (IBR/BVD).
6. More than 90% of all operations did not do any diagnostic screening for internal parasites.
The NAHMS report documents that most cows, calves, and bulls in the U.S. cow-calf herd aren’t receiving optimum animal health care. And a plethora of scientific data indicates that beef animals that suffer from respiratory disease during the grazing or feedlot phase of production yield lower-quality, less tender carcasses and bring less value to the beef production system. Other university data show beef animals infected with even a subclinical case of internal and/or external parasites also have lower-grading carcass grades and lower red meat yields, as well as produce poorer-grading hides.
This information points to the need for more emphasis on wellness (preventive) programs. The data also show that bovine practitioners’ herd health recommendations aren’t reaching (or at least not being accepted) by a good percentage of beef producers.
Bovine practitioners must be proactive in communicating with their clients (as well as other producers in their practice locale) regarding the reasoning behind their health recommendations. They can help their clients understand that better herd health leads to improved food quality.
Herd Health Wellness
In addition, bovine practitioners have an opportunity to link the value of a herd health wellness plan to the consumer’s desire for the highest quality product their clients can produce. Those bovine veterinarians who move to the front in this arena (as well as many others non-medical arenas which can help their clients improve their productivity – animal identification, biosecurity, animal welfare, just to name a few – will help their clients become more profitable with a more stable consumer market for their products. Thus, it’s incumbent upon bovine practitioners to begin incorporating proactive client communications programs into their practice to keep their clients fully informed of the latest data in both the scientific areas as well as the consumer trends area.
Today, more than 80% of all U.S. citizens have access to either broadband Internet or a smartphone with Internet connectivity; and many have both. Bovine practitioners can capitalize on this very efficient method to communicate more often and more effectively with clients and producers in their communities. Our experience over the past 5+ years working with practices to help them develop such proactive client communication and practice marketing programs has produced the following key findings:
1. Practices with the higher percentage of e-mails of clients and a planned client communication and practice marketing program have higher compliance rates, and continue to grow practice revenue even in difficult economic times as compared to practices which do not record client e-mail addresses and do not have nor implement a planned communication and marketing plan.
2. Practices that utilize multiple avenues and multiple periods of client communication and practice marketing have higher compliance and practice growth than practices which utilize fewer, i.e., monthly or more often client communications (website, email, mobile phone text, direct mail newsletters, and direct mail postcard promotions) vs. only 1 or 2 postcards or printed newsletters once or twice a year (or no proactive communication).
These NAHMS “non-compliance” data indicate that in every cattle production community, there is tremendous potential for improving animal welfare, improving overall food quality, improving the economic return of beef and dairy producers, and establishing/growing vibrant bovine practices. All of which could be very beneficial to the local community, the food-consuming public, bovine veterinary medicine, and the animal husbandry profession.
Who better to lead the drive to improve compliance with proper herd health recommendations than the bovine practitioner? Bovine practitioners have an opportunity to initiate a new “service” in their practice – client communications. An investment in bringing this new service to their clients (as well as potential new clients in their communities) can bring a multifold return to their practice, their clients, and the communities they serve.
Jay R. Brown, DVM, MS, is founder and president of Vetgate Global (www.vetgateglobal.com).
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