Dr. David Prigel expects the dairy farmers he works with will endure through the recession.
"Fortunately, the producers I work with, they knew things were getting tougher and they started reducing overhead, paying forward on some expenses such as fertilizer and feed," Dr. Prigel said. "Some of them are fourth- and fifth-generation (farmers), so they are really good at battening down the hatches when they see trouble coming."
Dr. Prigel is a mixed animal practitioner from Republic, Mo., and a member of the AVMA House of Delegates. He has been an integral part of his client producers' businesses for years, and they continue to use his services.
But the economic downturn will likely cause other dairy owners and feed industry members to leave the state, Dr. Prigel said.
Livestock and poultry owners appear to be cutting back on production as a whole, according to several private and government economists. But producers' actions are far from uniform, as are their subsequent effects on food animal practitioners.
The herds Dr. Prigel works with are increasing in size, some by keeping more heifers and others by expanding to allow the next generation to join the family business. He knows of one producer who reduced the size of his herd because he got a good price for about 20 cows.
Dr. Vergil A. Heyer, who owns a mixed animal practice in Ainsworth, Neb., and is a member of the Nebraska VMA board of directors, said business has been a little slower for him as producers have adopted more economically conservative attitudes. His mixed animal practice involves work mostly with cattle.
Some of Dr. Heyer's clients are keeping fewer head of cattle while others at or near retirement age have retired instead of hiring workers to keep their businesses alive for a few more years, he said. The reasons for cuts to herd sizes are varied, and one is the cost of hiring labor.
Dr. J. Randy Bush, president of Bush Veterinary Services in Flora, Ind., and a board member for the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, said his mixed animal practice has been fortunate in growing, even through 2008. The biggest change he has seen from pork-producing clients is a transition from owning animals locally to acting as caretakers for other owners' hogs.
Dr. Bush said that transition changes producers' motivations, decisions on veterinary care providers, commitment to the industry, and commitment to the community.
Some producers in the swine industry have left the business altogether, while others are trying to get the most for their money for diagnostic services or professional consultation, Dr. Bush said. Cost-cutting measures sometimes lead to reductions in the frequency at which producers seek veterinary care, if they continue to seek it.
Dr. Bush said herds near him have been very stable, but he noted there is some reduction in overall hog numbers nationwide. At the same time, the average herd size is going up as smaller herds are taken out of production.
Dr. Bush recommends veterinarians focus on issues they can control to give clients positive experiences and keep them coming back. And he suggested veterinarians, particularly those in economically challenged practices, seek practice advice through the NCVEI Web site at www.ncvei.org.