Keeping Veterinary Expenses Low

Author: Susan Kerr, WSU NW Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist

Publish Date: Summer 2014

With the cost of feed, fuel and fertilizer rising substantially in the past few years, livestock producers who want to be profitable constantly need to look for ways to reduce production costs. One item on your expense ledger that can be reduced through judicious planning is veterinary expenses. This article was created by request to guide producers through this process.

Relationships Rule

After you have selected a veterinarian in your area that provides services to the animal species you raise, make an appointment for an initial farm visit. Consider this a consultation and make the most of it. You will be paying for the professional’s time and expertise, but this initial fee will pay off by preventing a myriad of future problems. This relationship will be a two-way street: your veterinarian will become a trusted and dependable professional consultant and service provider for you, and you will become a loyal client and essential component of an effective Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR).

Walk through your property and facilities with your veterinarian; his/her trained eye will be able to detect threats to your animals’ health and safety you might have overlooked. Have your records ready and be able to answer questions your veterinarian will ask such as vaccination, deworming, nutrition and breeding histories for your animals. Working with your veterinarian, establish an annual herd health plan that focuses on prevention practices and monitoring protocols that detect problems promptly. Large commercial operations such as dairies often schedule weekly veterinary visits to perform routine health procedures, review health records, examine animals and provide consultation services.

Discuss your feeding program in depth and ask your veterinarian how to monitor animal health and production to assess its effectiveness. Ask about local mineral deficiencies or toxicities and for recommendations about what minerals to provide to your animals.

Consider asking your veterinarian to conduct pre-purchase examinations on herd additions. This is certainly a good idea for high-value breeding stock. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination on individuals you are considering purchasing and make recommendations about laboratory tests to determine the presence of diseases of concern. Fertility examinations can be conducted as well.

Veterinarians as Teachers

During an initial farm visit, your veterinarian can teach you how to perform essential management tasks. Some examples include:

  • Taking temperature, pulse rate and respiration rate
  • Giving oral medications
  • Administering injections
  • Trimming feet
  • FAMACHA scoring small ruminants
  • Docking tails (sheep)
  • Castrating
  • Disbudding
  • Taking sterile milk samples (dairy animals)
  • Body Condition Scoring

Veterinarians as Business Owners

Veterinarians provide essential services to animal owners. They also have a business to run and want to be financially successful so they can continue to help animals next week, next month and next year. As with other aspects of the service sector, loyalty is appreciated. Buy some medications and vaccines from your veterinarian—he/she will stand behind the quality and handling of these products, unlike products shipped from discount warehouses or online businesses. Paying for services and medications promptly will make your veterinarian more likely to take your 2 AM call for advice or prioritize your 8 PM emergency farm call. Remember the two-way street relationship mentioned above? The veterinarian assists you in caring for your animals properly and you reciprocate by supporting his/her business.


You can avoid costly fines and even jail time by establishing a VCPR and following your veterinarian’s advice about medication use in food animals. The number of licensed and approved medications is low for some food animal species, but appropriate mediations can be used as needed with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval, provided you use such medications exactly as directed by your veterinarian, including food animal product withholding times. Extra-label drug use (ELDU) is using any medication in any way other than exactly described on the medication label; it is legal only when a valid VCPR exists. Your initial farm visit with your veterinarian will establish your VCPR.

A VCPR exists when the following is true:

1. The veterinarian has assumed the responsibility for making clinical judgments regarding the health of the patient and the client has agreed to follow the veterinarian’s instructions.

2. The veterinarian has sufficient knowledge of the patient to initiate a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the patient. This means the veterinarian is personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the patient by timely examination of the patient by the veterinarian, or medically appropriate and timely visits by the veterinarian to the operation where the patient is managed. 

3. The veterinarian is readily available for follow-up evaluation or has arranged for veterinary emergency coverage and continuing care and treatment.

4. The veterinarian provides oversight of treatment, compliance and outcome.

5. Patient records are maintained.1

Prevention Rules

“Good fences make good neighbors”; they also reduce veterinary emergencies by keeping animals safely where they belong. Use smooth hot wires—not barbed wire—and monitor and maintain fences regularly to avoid costly bills related to injuries.

Meeting animals’ needs for the proper amount and balance of nutrients is the underpinning of your entire health and prevention program. Well-nourished animals are better able to withstand health threats from parasites, viruses, bacteria, bad weather and other stressors. Be sure to have enough space for all animals to access all the feed and water they need; watch for boss animals that keep others from getting their share and address this situation as needed. Make any ration changes slowly to give intestinal microbes time to adjust. Keep grain safely locked away from animals—unregulated consumption can be deadly.

Animals need a place to rest and relax. Shelter from the baking sun and cold rain and wind reduces animal stress and maintenance requirements. Animals forced to be in mud for prolonged periods experience significant stress, especially young stock; this stress can start a cascade of problems resulting from increased disease susceptibility. Work with your local Conservation District to address mud issues on your farm for the sake of animal health and water quality protection.

Good ventilation is needed for proper air quality for animals housed in barns. Ask your veterinarian about this during your initial farm visit. Sometimes natural ventilation is sufficient, but in some cases fans are needed to ensure the amount of air turnover needed to keep air fresh and pathogen loads low. Failing to address air quality will almost guarantee you will see your veterinarian again to treat pneumonia cases.

Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

The most proactive livestock managers take time each day to look at their animals to assess health and well being. Experienced managers can quickly gauge each animal’s attitude, appetite, gait, manure, coat, body condition, eyes, etc. and make a determination about health or illness. Prompt identification of health problems also helps contain veterinary expenses, both for an individual animal and at the start of a herd-wide problem.

If You See a Problem…

If you notice something of concern, collect as much factual information about the situation as possible and call your veterinarian. Do not watch a problem all day, then call the veterinarian after 5 PM—this may earn you an emergency fee in addition to a farm call charge. Some issues can be handled easily over the phone and others will require a farm visit. If you can haul the animal to your veterinarian’s clinic, this might save you a bit on your bill.

If the veterinarian comes to your farm, have the animals needing attention caught up so they can be examined and treated quickly. Have the animals’ records available and tell your veterinarian about any treatments you have already administered. Be knowledgeable about the animal(s)’ recent behavior, appetite, attitude, manure and urine production, etc. and share this information with the veterinarian.

Annual Tune Ups

By focusing on prevention and monitoring, you should be able to prevent most problems and quickly detect any that arise. This approach will keep veterinary expenses minimal and promote best outcomes. Plan on an annual farm visit with your veterinarian to discuss any concerns you have, review vaccination and nutrition programs, address risks and maintain an effective VCPR.