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Veterinarians reach for software to build practices and expand their customer base

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A beef industry reality is, as herd sizes continue to grow, the demand and feasibility of traditional veterinary practice changes, especially with a shortage of veterinarians in rural areas.  While most veterinarians do their utmost to provide exceptional service for their clients, often they’re spread much too thin as they start to travel further from home. Dreams of  improving animal welfare while providing meaningful insights can turn to frustrations of simply ‘getting it done’ while racing to get to the next place on time. 

To make matters worse, there is very little operation-specific data available to the veterinarian to make informed decisions, with the producer, that provide real value. Many of these decisions are based on what’s in front of them, information written on pieces of paper, brief conversations or basic herd management software that doesn’t get down to the individual records that lack the ability to compare years or evaluate the decisions that have been made in the past.

Waylon Wise, BSc, Ag, DVM and owner of Cow/Calf Health and Management Solutions says, “When there’s no value-added program to share with producers, we end up driving all over the country and our time becomes monopolized. Chasing the small fires for fee for service  turns others’ misfortunes into our benefits, which is the wrong type of model to practice.”

Tracking and individual data manage customer herds

For Wise, the TELUS Animal Record Management tool, a comprehensive veterinary management software to support clients and provide consultative services, calms many of these concerns.

While the veterinary management software from TELUS Agriculture has always been producer oriented, the enterprise package for veterinarians has become an essential tool to grow and support their practices.

Features of the tool provide a strong platform for client herd management, first by delivering access to expanding health and production records, and second by helping to track and manage individual health, breeding, genetic and feeding data.

Wise explains it’s a smooth fit since interested clients are often progressively inclined and already attracted to this type of approach. 

“There are fewer calving complications due to improved genetics and ongoing training and experience of the calving crew. The health situation is pretty straightforward because rations have been formulated by a nutritionist, and vaccination protocols are well established. The cattle become more self-sufficient which is good,” he says.  

One of the chief advantages of the TELUS Animal Record Management tool is its ability to track individual cattle. Rather than trying to maintain a memory bank of yearly events, data and statistics, this software gathers what’s required and compiles it into different years allowing for simple comparisons.

“Additionally, calves move around, being born in one place, transferred to a backgrounder, then a feedlot, and finally a packing plant,” Wise says. “Now, all those individual data points trickle into the home account and give us a tremendous amount of comparable information.”

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Solid protocols and tailor-made solutions

A veterinarian includes their desired protocols to support the health outcomes of the herd. These health protocols are available within the tool at all times, meaning their clients can use these protocols to treat animals with virtual support of the veterinarian. Animals are identified, rectal temperatures and weights entered, drugs assigned, and a diagnosis selected. Triggered alerts can notify veterinarians of potential health indications to review.  

“It’s next level,” Wise says. “Traditionally, we have a herd health protocol book we give to a client which we could still upload into the program, but now we can edit it more often, change, adapt, or add to it. Our clients still have reference materials but it’s also hard coded into the process of field collection and accessible on every device.”

A unique feature of TELUS Animal Record Management is the ability to coordinate virtual visits. Driving to a location happens less frequently as consulting services change the status quo and help expand a practice. Benchmarking can also be completed to support future herd decisions. 

Wise says digital pictures are assigned to the individual animal profile within software for examination, diagnosis and feedback. Videos showing behavior and symptoms, along with a complete history of events for that animal, are uploaded for expert recommendations. 

“It’s much more organized as opposed to text messages with shoddy pictures, or poor videos through a message app,” Wise says. “Now we have quality, organized material linked to an animal’s record on a cloud database.”

Building a practice by adding technology

The TELUS Animal Record Management program also helps build both novice and experienced veterinary practices by delivering extensive benefits. 

“Like most technology, the younger generation normally has little problem opening a chute side laptop or cell phone. Experienced veterinarians might do the same, but as this job takes its toll on your body and roles shift within the practice, there remains a critical role of digging into the information – which is providing huge value for the customer and provides feedback to the field veterinarians,” says Wise. “By using veterinary management software, they can take their practices to the next level by tracking health, nutrition and the performance of customer’s herds.”

He says more clients will be added and supported through the virtual visit’s capabilities rather than spending time and money traveling. A mix of in-person and online visits can shift strategies from travel based to offering more data-backed consulting and insights.

Transferring value with ease of operation

All facets including tracking individual and group data points, creating targeted protocols, expanding client bases, adapting tasks from physical effort to consulting and virtual visits bring value to a practice. High-quality, real data is passed to the client with the ability to charge for enhanced services beyond the basic health module.

“We’re making a real difference on the productivity and health of these herds by managing the data, and training as many people as we can at the operation to do what we do,” Wise says. “I don’t need to be assisting every calf with a leg back or ultrasounding every cow in the country. We’re trying to play a larger role in disseminating what we’ve been taught to ultimately improve animal welfare because time matters.”

Increasing opportunities by simplification

Wise explains the largest growth he’s seen in the last five years has been in the genomics and DNA tech field. Testing skin samples to determine parentage, breed composition and predicting the value of the DNA sequence has become much more commonplace. While it’s not yet certain exactly how the DNA relates to the actual operational data, the dream is that one day it will help the industry identify the healthiest, productive, efficient cattle earlier. We may be able to provide value to all the players in the beef value chain without disrupting what has been successful in the past. 

“It’s hard to track an animal and its progeny for 10 years,” he says. “We must be careful to match genomics with real data. Parentage testing ensures dams and sires are linked properly in the system and allows us to index them based on what their progeny are actually doing in the local environment. Then, we will use the breed composition to maximize heterosis during the breeding season and genomic profiles to help guide replacement selection after reviewing indexing, performance and health records.”

From there, Wise emphasizes it transfers seamlessly into identifying not only the top percentage of a cow herd, but the more critical bottom tier. Superior females can be selectively bred to the highest quality bulls to produce replacements. Additionally, the bottom end could be culled or bred differently, quickly shifting the production dynamic.

Starting now for long-term business sustainability 

The TELUS Animal Record Management program works by helping veterinarians create a more sustainable business model for their practices. The benefits of providing consulting services are ongoing client support and expanding services to a broader client area. Rather than being reactive to the immediate concerns on the cell phone and extinguishing fires, a billable consulting time becomes available through previously untapped consulting services. 

“Ultimately it helps improve animal welfare. We’re handling cattle less often, they’re calving on their own, they’re living longer, they’re healthier, and require less intervention,” Wise emphasizes.

Getting started is simple, as the system incorporates onboarding clinics to counteract any fears of technology. In practical terms, Wise says the first step for veterinarians, within a practice using TELUS Animal Record Management, is usually to make a laptop and scanner a standard part of their equipment. At large processing events, such as preg checking, bull evaluation, branding or weaning, scanning cattle is a ‘lead by example’ practice. Once clients see how easy it is compared to writing everything down on paper, their interest will quickly rise. 

He believes that using the veterinary management software will begin to shift how veterinarians operate.

“It’s an alternative way to practice bovine medicine that’s based on preventive measures and managing outcomes,” he says. “It‘s a more rewarding path for a veterinarian, and the team at TELUS Agriculture is there to support the technology. We all want to champion and share the best tools with like-minded veterinarians and producers and work together to make a more informed, productive, sustainable management system.”

Contributed by Bruce Derksen, freelance writer

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