Livestock, including cattle, are a critical industry for the Kansas economy. Chris Neal / Kansas News Service
Task force is asking Kan. ranchers to take survey to find where shortage is most severe
By STEPHEN KORANDA
Kansas News Service
TOPEKA — Kansas, a state that relies heavily on the
cattle industry to power its economy, faces a shortage of the
veterinarians that tend to the livestock.
So it’s launched a task
force to find how to draw more people who can doctor the livestock
driving billions of dollars in economic activity.
Cattle ranching and related businesses employ nearly 39,000 people and contribute an estimated $8.7 billion to the Kansas economy.
veterinarian shortage poses more than just an inconvenience for people
who ranch cattle or run cow-calf operations. If a cow needs a C-section
and a vet isn’t available, that can mean a lost calf — and lost revenue.
you don’t have a veterinarian that you can contact to provide the
various vet services, it can have devastating impacts to your business,”
Deputy Kansas Agriculture Secretary Kelsey Olson said.
officials, the livestock industry and universities are looking for ways
to ease the shortage. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Development Task
Force is starting with a survey to determine where livestock producers have the greatest need for veterinarians.
said one factor is that many students entering veterinary school are
interested in tending to cats and dogs, rather than heifers and hogs.
see that taking off,” she said. “Many of the students are coming in
with that experience and wanting to specifically focus on small
In addition, Olson said it’s a challenging job. A rural
vet might be on call every weekend. Working in a larger practice in a
city can seem more appealing. More staff can share the demands with
rotating weekend shifts.
Still, Kansas is doing better at training large animal vets than many other states.
White, a Kansas State University professor and director of the Beef
Cattle Institute, said about 25% of the school’s graduates work in mixed
or large animal practices. He said the nationwide average is only
He’s urging livestock producers to take the survey to
help the group find out where veterinary shortages are the most severe.
He thinks about it the same way he would treat an animal disease.
want to be able to get a diagnosis. I want to know, exactly what are we
dealing with?,” White said. “Then I can come up with what’s the best
Some veterinary programs at K-State already focus
specifically on food animals. White said fixing the shortage likely
isn’t as simple as growing those programs.
“Is it education? Is it on the supply side? Is it on the demand side? Where is the discrepancy?” he said.
The people taking part in the effort believe it won’t be an easy task to sort all that out.
“I don’t think there’s a quick fix,” said Matt Teagarden, CEO of the Kansas Livestock Association.
said scholarship programs that target rural students might help. But
first, members of the task force need to know where there’s sufficient
demand to sustain a veterinary practice.
It isn’t a long-term
solution to recruit or train a new vet then send them to an area where
there isn’t enough demand to sustain their business.
“There might be a reason,” Teagarden said, “there isn’t a vet clinic there already.”
Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter and news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda or email him at [email protected]