Quick Takes

Kentucky agriculture group named to address large animal vet shortage

By: - February 3, 2023 7:24 pm

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles has named a working group of agriculture industry stakeholders to search for “solutions to the state’s large animal vet shortage,” the Agriculture Department said Friday. 

A shortage of large animal veterinarians across the country has created “a negative impact as farmers search to find the veterinary care they need for their animals,” a department press release said. About 5% of veterinarians in the U.S. practice on large animals. The rest are part of companion animal practices, research, or regulations. In Kentucky, about 3% of veterinarians have dedicated large animal practices. 

“This shortage of large animal veterinarians in Kentucky and throughout the nation has already started impacting the farmer and could impact our food source in the future,” Quarles said. “This creates a significant concern for farmers being able to access adequate animal care to keep their herds and flocks healthy. The working group brings together the brightest agriculture minds to find solutions to the issues at hand and improve the services farmers need.”

The group’s first meeting will be later this month. Throughout 2023, it will meet to define solutions and develop action plans and benchmarks. The department held two discussion meetings with industry stakeholders about reasons for the shortage and possible solutions, which is where the idea for the working group came from. 

Last year, some reasons for the shortage identified were “large animal veterinarians often make less on average than those in other areas,” graduating veterinary student’s average debt is “more than $200,000,” and burnout from working long hours with strenuous workloads and unpredictable schedules. Also, almost 40% of Kentucky’s large animal veterinarians “are within 10 years of retirement.” 

Solutions discussed last year included changing loan programs, finding state and federal government opportunities to assist with student debt and beginning practices; creating incentive programs to recruit graduating veterinary students into large animal practices in rural or underserved areas; develop education programs through organizations like  4-H, FFA, and career tracks in schools to introduce youth to career opportunities as veterinarians early on; and reviewing admittance criteria for veterinarian schools. 

The working group members are: 

Glen Sellers, Auburn University

  • Dr. Debbie Reed, Breathitt Veterinary Center and Murray State University
  • Dr. Gordon Jones, Kentucky Agriculture Development Board
  • Dustin Blosser, Kentucky Alternative Livestock Association
  • Dr. Andy Roberts, Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners
  • Dr. Tim Gardner, Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners
  • Dave Maples, Kentucky Cattlemen Association
  • Dr. Charles Townsend, Kentucky Dairy Development Council
  • Sharon Furches, Kentucky Farm Bureau
  • Erin Klarer, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority
  • Sarah E. Coleman, Kentucky Horse Council
  • Caleb Ragland, Kentucky Livestock Coalition and Kentucky Soybean Association
  • Dennis Liptrap, Kentucky Pork Producers
  • Aaron Miller, Kentucky Poultry Federation
  • Dr. Beth Johnson, Kentucky Sheep & Goat Development Office
  • Dr. Jon Laster, Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association
  • Randall Evans DVM, Lincoln Memorial University
  • Mark Reding, State Board of Agriculture
  • Dr. James “Jamie” Matthew, UK College of Agriculture and UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Dr. Andrea Sexten, Eastern Kentucky University

In December, NPR reported farmers across the U.S. have faced a shortage of rural veterinarians for decades, but the problem was at an all-time high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 500 counties in 46 states had critical shortages in 2022.

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