In early days the treatment of various sick animals, and dairy cows with milk fever or calving problems, were the main duties of the veterinarian. By the 2000s veterinarians were still involved in these duties, but more emphasis was on disease prevention.
In 1865 the cattle disease rinderpest ravaged the United Kingdom. Veterinarians who advocated quarantine and slaughter of any animals that had contact with infected beasts were ignored. Eradication of the disease would have been relatively simple if this advice had been followed – instead 2.25 million cattle died. The experience encouraged governments to follow veterinary advice and to set up quarantine procedures.
MAF Biosecurity New Zealand works to keep New Zealand free from diseases that may arrive from overseas. However, veterinarians involved in farm animal practice are the people most likely to recognise unusual animal diseases – so training in exotic disease detection and control is part of their role.
Rural vet shortage
In the early 2000s there was an ongoing shortage of rural veterinarians, due to the physical work, long hours, distances travelled (many rural vets cover 50,000 kilometres a year), and relatively low pay. Although about 80 new vets graduated from Massey each year, most were women who often preferred urban practices with less travel and more flexible hours. A small number of vets from other countries worked in New Zealand rural practices.
In 2005 prescription animal remedies were deregulated, so they could be sold by agencies other than vets. This affected product sales by vet clinics and also vet charges to farmers, which were previously discounted when accompanied by product sales. This threatened the viability of some vet practices. The New Zealand Veterinary Association has expressed concern that a reduced number of vets in the countryside posed more risk of exotic disease outbreaks and undetected animal welfare problems.