If dairy veterinarians still viewed their primary role as treating individual sick animals, many in the profession would be obsolete. The 60-cow stanchion barn no longer dominates the culture of the dairy industry, and producers have evolved to a new era of dairying. Progressive research, innovative technologies and planned marketing opportunities have helped producers grow with the industry.

Veterinarian / Lodi Veterinary Care
Veterinarian / Lodi Veterinary Care

Veterinarians have followed a similar road of progression. As dairies have grown in size and sophistication, progressive dairy veterinary practices have acquired technology and developed consulting skills to support today’s professional dairy businesses.

A mentality of herd health, collaboration and team education helps leading veterinarians continue to partner with producers to help meet reproductive, production and employee goals.

A reproductive program is the foundation of herd health
A veterinarian’s role today revolves around a complete herd health program. While reproduction is but one area where dairy veterinarians bring value, the term “herd health” is an accurate description of a veterinarian’s true role on a dairy.

Through the regular schedule of a reproductive program, a veterinarian devotes enough time to become thoroughly familiar with the dairy, its goals and the capabilities and interests of its management.


Many times, a weekly visit puts the veterinarian in a position to help identify problems and understand where additional support will be a welcomed asset.

Three revolutionary developments in dairy cattle reproduction technology have further enhanced the value of the reproductive program: ultrasound, synchronization programs and heat detection systems.

In addition to diagnosing pregnancies at an earlier stage, a trained veterinarian using an ultrasound can determine the sex of the fetus, see if the cow is carrying twins and – especially important – evaluate the health of the fetus and identify abnormal or recently dead fetuses at an early stage.

A veterinarian can also find uterine or ovarian abnormalities and prescribe treatments, permitting the cow to become fertile again and continue to be an asset for the herd.

Likewise, an understanding of reproductive physiology combined with the ongoing regular relationship with the producer allows the veterinarian to prescribe a specific synchronization program and heat detection systems that will work best in each herd.

The team meeting brings all players together
In addition to expertise in technology, Lodi Veterinary Care in Lodi, Wisconsin, continues to grow as a partner to our producers because of a team mentality. This begins with regular team meetings.

In addition to the veterinarian and owner, these team meetings often include the nutritionist, dairy managers, A.I. technicians and, potentially, bankers and other vendors. The team meets periodically to discuss concerns on the dairy, to formulate a plan and to problem-solve.

For some clients, the veterinarian leads the meeting and sets the agenda. For others, the veterinarians serve as valued participants.

Some of the issues identified will require further research, and sometimes other experts are needed to help resolve the issues. When needed, veterinarians can employ their contacts in academia, industry or colleagues within the practice.

Coordinating animal health with overall management of the dairy operation is an opportunity for today’s large animal doctors to maximize the value of their services – helping producers to succeed through collaboration.

Utilizing dairies’ performance measurement and monitoring systems
Almost all large dairies utilize a computerized system to store data for each animal, run lists for management tasks such as herd health and analyze performance data.

By becoming a partner in the herd, veterinarians can download their clients’ data from systems like Dairy Comp 305 or PC Dart. The reports help the veterinarian monitor and analyze breeding programs, milk quality and quantity, disease incidence and virtually anything else that is entered by the dairy.

Discussion of these parameters between the veterinarian and dairy management can lead to changes that affect the dairy’s profitability. In recent years, our clinic has found this data so valuable to producer-veterinary partnerships that the practice is providing these systems for herds that don’t otherwise subscribe.

Partner in policy and protocol development
Veterinarians and producers today must work together to manage protocols and adhere to industry policy. This shared risk with dairy producers engages veterinarians as the key advisers for antibiotic usage protocols and associated record-keeping.

Residue violations are extremely costly to the dairy and jeopardize consumer confidence in our products. Modern dairies can also rely on protocols to make management decisions on parlor milking procedures, vaccination schedules and disease treatment.

The veterinarian’s understanding of disease process, pathogen load, exposure factors, immune systems and environmental risk factors, combined with familiarity with an individual dairy’s management, makes the veterinarian well-suited to develop and monitor these protocols.

Monitoring these protocols is just as important as their development, and veterinary education in critical control pathways is invaluable in detecting and correcting inevitable protocol drift.

Supporting employee education
Farm employees are often responsible for carrying out herd health tasks. To keep employees knowledgeable on industry advancements and protocol, we have prioritized increased support for dairy employee education.

Integrating employees from different backgrounds and cultures with various levels of experience takes time and planning. Veterinarians can help train management and front-line employees in proper calving pen protocols, newborn care, milking parlor procedures, animal behavior, animal-handling techniques and early disease diagnosis.

By sharing their knowledge of animal diseases and control, the veterinarian can advise on proper treatment recommendations, record-keeping and injection site locations and techniques.

For example, dairies benefit from veterinary involvement in fresh pen management. Fresh cows are particularly vulnerable to many diseases that can result in them being set back at this crucial stage in their lactation or even involuntarily culled.

In addition to performing regularly scheduled fresh pen exams, veterinarians can educate managers and write protocols that will help these cows have a successful lactation.

Building relationships on trust and respect
A successful partnership between veterinarians and producers begins with a relationship built on trust and respect.

We have created these partnerships by maintaining an open line of communication between veterinarians and producers. Because of this communication, our clients and veterinarians work together through a trusted relationship.

This collaboration goes hand-in-hand with many nationwide surveys that rank veterinarians as one of the most trusted professions in America.

To keep these relationships intact and the industry moving forward, veterinarians and producers must continue to work together to set goals in herd health, employee education and reproductive strategies.

At the core of any successful practice, veterinarians still have a doctor/patient perspective. However, in addition to treating sick animals as needed, today’s modern dairy veterinary practice views the whole herd as the patient and the health of the dairy business as a primary objective.

Preventing disease, increasing cow comfort and advancing animal welfare on a whole-herd basis is powerful. These practices lead not only to a healthy, comfortable herd but also to a healthy, profitable business.