The number of veterinarians who work with cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals is on the decline as many prepare to retire and fewer students opt for large animal practice, results from a recent study showed.
Current vets said they already drive for hours to meet with clients, and officials are worried about the impact on food safety as large-animal veterinarians serve as inspectors at ranches and slaughterhouses.
The study found that only 2 percent of veterinary school students in the 2010 graduating class said they planned to work mostly with large, non-pet animals. Another 7 percent studied a mixed curriculum that included all types of animals, but the majority of responses leaned toward practicing pet care.
From 1998 to 2009, the number of small-animal vets climbed to 47,118 from 30,255, while the number of farm-animal vets dropped to 5,040 from 5,553. And, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that large animal vets often earn a lower salary: an average of $57,745 compared to $64,744 for small-animal vets, according to a 2008 survey.
The large-animal vet world is graying - half of farm-animal vets are older than 50, and only 4.4 percent are younger than 30. About a third of the veterinarians working at the federal level are eligible to retire in the next three years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Reprinted in part from The Washington Post