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England: Working closely with a veterinarian helps to ensure herd health, prevent problems

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

It always pays to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian who can answer questions and assist in herd health management strategy to help prevent problems. This is generally more helpful, and more profitable in the long run, than just relying on the veterinarian for emergencies.

James England, University of Idaho Caine Center, says this kind of relationship is a two-way street. 

“Veterinarians generally need to be more pro-active, contacting the rancher to offer help in looking at the herd health program, rather than just waiting for emergency calls,” he says. “The dilemma for both sides is figuring out what this type of consultation is worth.”

Emergency calls

“Most veterinarians tend to have trouble charging for this service. Ranchers also have a hard time thinking in terms of calling the veterinarian to just sit down and talk and paying for it like a consultant,” England continues.

“Ranchers tend to be emergency-oriented, just paying the veterinarian to do something, and are hesitant to pay for advice. They may bring up a question or discuss health issues while the veterinarian is on the ranch palpating cows.” 

The ranch may have a cow that needs an eye or teeth looked at while the vet is there, but what is needed is a mindset on both sides to occasionally just sit down and talk about preventative maintenance. 

“Then they can talk about any problems, or what the rancher wants to do – asking things like what he or she should be using in a vaccination program,” says England.

Nutrition and health

It also helps if the rancher and veterinarian can get together with a nutritionist regarding the overall health program. 

“From my perspective as a veterinarian, nothing I can do or suggest is going to work very well unless the animals are adequately fed,” England comments, noting that nutrition affects everything else, including, fertility, the immune system and growth rate.

“The rancher should sit down with the veterinarian once or twice a year and go through any problems they’ve had that year or to ask questions about new vaccines to know which ones he or she should be using,” England explains. “There’s not much difference in many of the vaccines. The important thing is to make sure they are using a vaccine that matches their management, production or health maintenance program.”

Visits with vets

“When I first came here and visited several ranches as a roper, most of those ranchers didn’t realize until the second day of branding that I was a veterinarian,” England says. “Then they wanted to talk to me about their vaccination programs when we’d sit down to lunch.”

He continues, “They knew I’d seen what they were doing on their ranch, and I’d talk to them about it. As soon as I’d get back from the branding, I’d call their veterinarian and mention things I’d seen and list the things we talked about and that I’d encouraged the rancher to talk to their vet about.”

However, most veterinarians hadn’t been on the ranch in two or more years to discuss vaccination programs. 

“One veterinarian who made a point to go back every year told me that the program I’d described in use at that ranch was different than the program he put together for them four months earlier,” England says. “Did the rancher get different advice from the salesman, the person behind the counter at the co-op where they bought the vaccine, or from ads in livestock magazines?”

From ranch to ranch

England says herd health management must be a strategic plan the rancher needs to evaluate every year. 

“It’s a moving target. If the rancher can sit down and talk with their veterinarian to see what’s available and what might be useful, they can almost always save money. Then, they won’t be buying something they don’t need or that might be of questionable value,” he explains.

“If the neighbor is doing ‘X’ and has had good luck with it, the rancher may try that – and may or may not have good luck with it,” he continues. “Or the neighbor may have tried something that didn’t work, so the rancher decides to not use that particular product.” 

Both ranchers and veterinarians need to see the whole picture. The situation on each ranch may be a little different.

Tailoring a program

“There are more than 400 licensed products in use as vaccines. It’s no wonder there’s confusion about knowing what to choose,” England says. “They all work, but some may be targeting different approaches.”

Because of the array of products to choose from, England encourages producers to talk to their veterinarian about whole herd history, management and vaccination timing. 

“Is the rancher vaccinating calves at the best time?” he asked. “Often we pick the worst times – when we are branding, castrating and dehorning.”

“One good thing is that we generally get the calf back with mama quickly, and he nurses again, which relieves stress and helps him respond immunologically,” says England.


If the veterinarian is out there periodically and familiar with the farm, he may be able to see changes more than the rancher can. The veterinarian can look at facilities, and body condition score of the animals, for instance. 

A little money spent on consultation with a veterinarian might prevent a big wreck on down the road.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to


Another thing that needs to be discussed with a veterinarian is a bio-security program. 

“Where are purchased animals coming from? Does the rancher run on range with other ranchers’ cattle?” asks Veterinarian James England. “If they are doing the maximum for herd health and someone else in their grazing association is doing minimum, it may cost a lot of money, but ranchers may be protecting themselves by doing it.”

“Other ranchers may be bringing in a disease that another is protecting against,” he says.

The other side of bio-security is to keep any new animals separate for awhile after they are purchased. It’s also a good idea to understand some of the diseases that could be brought in and to know the risks.


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