Bovine practitioners face challenges to profession, industry

AABP conference brings attendees to Charlotte, N.C., for three days of sessions
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Cattle feedlot
Feedlots are vulnerable to agroterrorism, particularly to the intentional introduction of foot-and-mouth disease, according to speakers at the annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

Research funding, agroterrorism, and farm labor were among myriad topics of discussion when hundreds of bovine practitioners came together in late September.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners' 41st annual conference ran Sept. 25-27 in Charlotte, N.C., jointly with the meeting of the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners.

The incoming AABP president and program chairman, Dr. Richard L. Wallace (see profile, focused on the welfare of dairy and beef cattle as the subject of the general sessions. Numerous speakers addressed animal well-being in modern livestock production relevant to public perceptions and industry realities (see page).

Several sessions examined gender and generational issues that are influencing recruitment of veterinary students into bovine practice (see page). The AABP held its first job fair during the conference.

Speakers also looked closely at more specific issues—including the scarcity of funds for research on animal health, feedlots as a front line against agroterrorism, and training programs for Spanish-speaking farm workers.

Research funding

Drs. Amelia Woolums of the University of Georgia and Christopher Chase of South Dakota State University spoke about why and how bovine practitioners should advocate for more research funding.

Dr. Woolums noted that research is necessary because cattle diseases impact animal well-being, cause financial loss, and can be a source of human diseases.

"So where am I, the animal health researcher, going to get funding?" she asked. "The three big places are the government, animal health industry—companies that sell vaccines and pharmaceuticals, and producer organizations and foundations."

Total research funding in the United States for all animal diseases amounted to about $465 million in 2003, Dr. Woolums said, while deaths from disease in cattle alone cost about $2 billion in 2005.

Dr. Chase said bovine practitioners can encourage producer groups in the cattle industry to fund research on animal disease—and encourage cattle producers to work with other animal industries to ask Congress for more research funds.

"This is not just a cattle problem," he said. "This is a problem across the board."

Veterinarians also can talk with their congressional members directly about the need to fund research on animal disease, Dr. Chase said.


Nevil C. Speer, PhD, of Western Kentucky University spoke about the threat of agroterrorism to feedlots and the cattle industry in general.

Dr. Speer described American agriculture as one of the country's economic icons and thus a target for terrorists. The sector is vulnerable to attack because of its open environments and dependence on transportation. In the cattle industry, producers send animals from across the country to large feedlots in the central United States.

Foot-and-mouth disease is the primary vulnerability for the U.S. cattle industry, Dr. Speer said. The best-case scenario for FMD involves rapid identification and containment but would still result in halted exports for a time. Another simulation found that FMD could spread to 40 states in 30 days if terrorists attacked in five locations.

Dr. Speer said feedlots can add security systems for not much money per head that will deter common criminals while also improving surveillance for terrorist activity.

"We all have a collective interest in this," he said. "That's the bottom line."

James Lane, undersheriff for Ford County and Dodge City in Kansas, spoke about local planning for response to an agroterrorism incident.

Lane said veterinarians can help by training in the incident command system, participating in emergency drills and exercises, and educating producers on reporting anyone or anything suspicious—such as suspicious illnesses and feed.

"One of the best deterrents is to be observant," Lane said.

Farm labor

Two management consultants and a veterinarian discussed labor on dairy farms, largely in light of the predominance of Hispanic workers. Bernie Erven, PhD, spoke about recruiting, hiring, and training high-quality workers. Jorge Estrada addressed the labor styles of diverse cultures.

Drs. Christopher Chase and Amelia Woolums
Drs. Christopher Chase of South Dakota State University and Amelia Woolums of the University of Georgia speak about the lack of funding for research on cattle diseases.

Dr. Mark Thomas of Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Carthage, N.Y., outlined his approach to labor training and advising in his practice.

He said the first step is assessing what workers know about animal husbandry and what they're doing on the farm. The subsequent training programs can include audiovisual tools, props, and hands-on application.

"It's important for all parties to recognize this training is never complete," Dr. Thomas said.

Veterinarians should talk with workers about the importance of education, he said, and emphasize that training is not the result of wrongdoing. At the same time, veterinarians should learn about Hispanic culture—and learn a little bit of Spanish.

"Even a few words can help bridge the gap," Dr. Thomas said.

Other conference highlights

Veterinary students presented clinical and research cases during the conference. Jeff Faimon and Jennafer Glaesemann from Iowa State University took first place in the clinical category for "Determination of cause of reproductive failure in a Holstein replacement heifer herd." In the research category, John Las from Ontario Veterinary College took first place for "The evaluation of the effect of a Miele PW 6065 Plus washer on the bacterial load and durability of udder towels and resulting somatic cell count in dairy cows."

The AABP also recognized the top research presentations by graduate students. Dr. Paula Ospina, Cornell University, won for "Evaluation of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) through the transition period as a predictor of clinical disease."

Twenty-one veterinary students received Amstutz scholarships of $2,000 apiece. Funding for this award comes from AABP member donations and an annual contribution from the Eli Lilly Foundation through Elanco Animal Health.

Also during the conference, the AABP Foundation reported on its continuing efforts to help expand Iowa State University's Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team to additional universities. Veterinary students at ISU created VSMART to mentor primarily high school students.

On another front, the AABP Foundation and AABP Distance CE Committee have been working toward offering online continuing education regularly. Veterinary students from Kansas State University helped record the conference for later online delivery.

By the numbers

American Association of Bovine Practitioners

1,139 conference attendees, including 250 students 6,060 members, including 1,018 students