From what they consume to what they wear, food animal medicine affects most people's lives. Whether it's an ice-cold glass of milk or a woolen sweater, consumers can thank the farmer for raising the animal that produced it and also the veterinarian for ensuring its health and well-being.
For an animal that resides on a Maryland or Virginia farm, there is a strong possibility the veterinarian treating it has been trained in the Food Animal Field Services program in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
Food Animal Field Services staff provide on-the-farm primary and emergency care and preventive therapy programs to animals within a 35-mile practice area of Blacksburg, Va. They also provide on-farm consultation to veterinarians in other parts of Virginia and Maryland. Their services include prevention of health problems in herds and flocks and programs designed to improve animal health and productivity. They also provide medical, surgical, and reproductive services to individual food animals in the Blacksburg area. This service may also involve in-field radiology and ultrasound examinations when necessary.
Dr. Kevin Pelzer, section chief for the service, advises the team of veterinarians in Food Animal Field Services. That team provides treatment to more than 40,000 animals a year with the help of a portable hospital — specialized trucks that carry all needed supplies and instruments. These trucks contain syringes, surgical kits, a refrigerator and a 40-gallon water tank.
''Most of what can be done in a veterinary hospital, we can do out in the field,'' said Pelzer, an associate professor of production management medicine and epidemiology in the college's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. ''With the exception of the rare bone or joint surgery, we are equipped, trained, and prepared to treat the animal.''
The care provided by the veterinary college's Food Animal Field Services is particularly important in a climate where food animal veterinarians are becoming increasingly scarce.
A major study conducted by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Consortium has determined the nation is experiencing a shortage of food animal veterinarians and that it is expected to get worse over the next decade. A variety of factors are leading to this shortage, but the findings are clear: More veterinarians must be trained in food animal medicine to keep up with the demand.
As part of its mission to foster agriculture, the veterinary college offers many programs and incentives to encourage students to seek careers in food animal veterinary medicine. School officials are also establishing a new program that will allow students from across the nation and around the world to come to the college to undertake one of two newly developed three-week food animal externships. Given the importance of food animals locally, nationally, and globally, making sure the animals are provided with quality health care now and in the future is of the utmost importance to Pelzer and his colleagues.
''These animals provide meat, milk, and fiber to the general public,'' he said. ''Having input in their care and in the education of their future healthcare providers helps guarantee a healthy, nutritious, and safe commodity.''
In addition to Pelzer, other faculty members in Food Animal Field Services include Drs. Dee Whittier, John Currin, Terry Swecker, Ram Kasimanickam, Ondrej Becvar, and Hollie Schramm.
Look through previous Spotlight stories