AABP conference explores new ways of working

Topics include paraprofessionals, pregnancy tests, animal welfare, students
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The future of bovine practice is not only in the hands of veterinary students but also in the ranks of veterinary technicians—and in the shakedown of new technologies, such as a blood test for pregnancy checks that could spare practitioners' arms.

That's according to speakers at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners' 42nd annual conference, Sept. 10-12 in Omaha, Neb., which ran jointly with the meeting of the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners.

AABP meeting attendees
At the recent meeting of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, attendees engage in discussion between sessions on subjects ranging from paraprofessionals to animal welfare.

During the AABP meeting, Dr. Roger L. Saltman assumed the office of president (see profile). The association also honored seven veterinarians with awards (see story).

Two of the general sessions examined pressing pharmaceutical issues ranging from drug residues to antimicrobial resistance (see story).

The first general session focused on how paraprofessionals fit into bovine practice, and the conference offered a new two-day curriculum for veterinary technicians. Other programming included forums covering topics such as animal welfare and a new, three-day curriculum for veterinary students.


Globalization and urbanization have placed new pressures on bovine practitioners, according to speakers during the first general session, and paraprofessionals could assist in coming years.

The veterinary profession's mandate has become broader than disease control, said Dr. David T. Galligan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Animal Health and Productivity.

Bovine practitioners should consider their key role in increasing food production as a growing world population demands more milk and meat, Dr. Galligan said. He added that veterinarians also must address animal welfare and environmental issues.

"We have a responsibility for healthy animals and healthy herds," Dr. Galligan said. "I would suggest that we have an expanded responsibility now to provide healthy, affordable products while ensuring a healthy environment."

Dr. David C. Van Metre, associate professor of integrated livestock management at Colorado State University, said the intensification of animal production in developing countries has increased the threat of foreign animal disease.

New technology can help improve FAD surveillance, but additional personnel might be necessary to respond to an outbreak. Dr. Van Metre said computer simulations of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in parts of California, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, and Maine found that the states' response plans required additional animal health personnel.

Dr. Franklyn B. Garry, coordinator of integrated livestock management at Colorado State, said bovine practitioners should define the needs in their field and then decide who can meet the needs—veterinarians or nonveterinarians.

Paraprofessionals could deliver many routine veterinary services, Dr. Garry said. Farm workers currently do so, generally without a veterinarian's supervision.

"You have no control over how that health care is deployed," Dr. Garry said, asking, "Why do we let that happen? Why do we let opportunities to have integrated food systems slip past us?"

Dr. Garry added that the challenges facing rural veterinary medicine, including bovine practice, are similar to the challenges facing rural human medicine. His mother was a rural physician who hired physician assistants to extend care to a wider area. Regulations don't allow veterinary technicians to deliver as many kinds of services as physician assistants can, however.

The AABP programming for veterinary technicians featured a roundtable on their role in bovine practice and a session on how veterinary practice acts apply to technicians. Necropsies, calving, and nutrition were the topics of lectures and corresponding wet labs.

Pregnancy tests

An alternative to rectal palpation for pregnancy checks—the Biopryn blood test—was the subject of several sessions for veterinarians.

R. Garth Sasser, PhD, founder of BioTracking, discussed his company's development of the Biopryn pregnancy test for ruminants. His company first marketed the blood test in 2003, and business has been growing. The test results are most accurate in cows after about 30 days of pregnancy.

Dr. Galligan of the University of Pennsylvania spoke about the economic value of such early pregnancy testing in optimizing calving intervals. His models found that about 60 days into a pregnancy is the best time to run a second blood test to check for early embryo loss.

Dr. Richard C. Prather, a bovine practitioner from Shattuck, Okla., described his experience with using Biopryn at a 2,400-cow dairy.

"Our practice chose to embrace that technology and to see how it works," he said.

Dr. Prather said the blood test led to an improvement in the average percentage of cows pregnant after six breeding cycles.

Dr. Robert J. Vlietstra, a bovine practitioner from Zeeland, Mich., said his practice has begun using Biopryn at some farms in an effort to increase conception rates.

Dr. Vlietstra noted that the new test cannot replace a veterinarian's understanding of reproduction or ability to diagnose pathology. Also, the test cannot determine ovarian activity or inactivity.

"We've taken a lot of our palpation time and put it into analytics in the office. And when we're out with the cows, we spend a lot more time with fresh cows," he said. "We spend a lot of time with cows yet. We just have refocused where we spend our time."  

Animal welfare

For the third time, the AABP held committee meetings as open "issues forums" during the annual meeting. Animal welfare was among a dozen subjects of discussion.

Stan Erwine of Dairy Management Inc., which builds demand for dairy products on behalf of U.S. producers, reported on the new Farmers Assuming Responsible Management program from the National Milk Producers Federation and DMI. The voluntary FARM program grew out of the 2008 National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative.

Vet students in cattle barn
Today's veterinary students might not spend as much time palpating cows once they enter practice if a new blood test for pregnancy checks continues to grow in popularity. The new test was the subject of several sessions at the recent meeting of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

The NMPF is revising its Caring for Dairy Animals manual to be the basis of the FARM program. Along with producer education, the program will include on-farm evaluations by veterinarians starting in 2010 and third-party verification starting in 2011.

Dr. David B. Sjeklocha, chairman of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants' Beef Cattle Health and Well-Being Committee, spoke about how the beef practitioners' group has organized meetings with other food animal groups in response to last year's massive beef recall resulting from abusive handling of dairy cows at the Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse in California.

The groups are developing a Web site to educate the public about the perspectives of food animal producers and veterinarians on welfare issues, in contrast with the views of animal rights activists.


Student programming during the AABP meeting included a job fair and a number of lectures.

Dr. Brian K. Reed of Agricultural Veterinary Associates in Manheim, Pa., AABP treasurer, spoke about "Securing Your First Job."

A spring 2009 AVMA survey found that about 79.5 percent of this year's veterinary graduates who were seeking employment or additional education had received an offer by the time of the survey, Dr. Reed noted, down from 89.8 percent in 2008.

Dr. Reed shared his thoughts on how to look for a position and what employers want in an applicant. He advised students to ask about a clinic's business practices and employee development. In evaluating applicants, he likes to see nontechnical as well as technical skills on resumes. While in veterinary school, students should join school organizations, take diverse externships, and seek out business training, he advised.

Veterinary students presented clinical and research cases during the conference. Eric J. Behlke from Iowa State University took first place in the clinical category for "Investigating the cause and effects of an outbreak of bovine respiratory disease in preconditioned calves in an Iowa feedlot." In the research category, Jennifer Hubbard from the Ontario Veterinary College won for "The effect of storage temperature on the accuracy of a cow-side test for ketosis."

The AABP also recognized the top research presentations by graduate students. Dr. Theresa L. Ollivett from Cornell University took first place for "Effect of nutritional plane on health and performance in dairy calves after experimental infection with Cryptosporidium parvum."

Seven veterinary students received Amstutz scholarships of $7,500 apiece. Funding for these awards comes from AABP members and the Eli Lilly Foundation through Elanco Animal Health. The AABP also held auctions during the conference to raise money for the scholarship fund.

The AABP Foundation and Pfizer Animal Health awarded the first scholarships from a new joint program. Eleven students received scholarships of $5,000 apiece. Purchasers of Pfizer cattle products can donate a 1 percent rebate to the foundation for the scholarship fund.

The AABP also awarded research assistantships totaling $20,000 to three graduate students.

by the numbers

American Association of Bovine Practitioners

  • 1,807 conference attendees, including 267 students
  • 6,152 members, including 1,220 students