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Vet shortage for large animals off the beaten track

Godfrey Tyler is an experienced livestock farmer and knows how to take care of his animals. But he shudders at the thought of experiencing a sudden emergency that even he can’t fix and would require a professional vet, such as a bad cow birthing experience, known to farmers as a calf breech.

“I don’t know, I’ll probably have to shoot animals,” he says, with remorse in his voice. “How do you say that to people?”

Tyler, of Waverly Brook Farm in Haliburton Highlands, is willing to paint the grim scene to illustrate the dire problem facing Haliburton County’s agricultural community; a lack of readily available veterinarians for farm animals.

The problem means that farmers have to solve problems themselves, even if not comfortable doing so, or pay impractical prices to access a vet from outside the region. Godfrey, and others are calling for the provincial government and animal welfare institutions to put more creative thinking into solving what they say is a long-standing problem that affects several rural Ontario regions.

Before 2021, Haliburton-area farmers had a local vet, who could attend to local emergency calls. But at the start of 2021, Dr. Aimee Coysh Filion suspended offering on-call services to big animals and limited her practice to in-house visits. One of her colleagues was leaving the clinic to return to Ireland, meaning the clinic couldn’t continue to serve farmers.

“It is unfortunate, but not many veterinarians want to practice mixed animal medicine, or do on-call,” she wrote. “Furthermore, there is a serious lack of veterinarians in our province as a whole, and many clinics have to search for a longer period of time to find one.”

“What other discipline is available 72 hours a week?” said Gord Mitchell, secretary and treasurer of the Northern Producer Animal Health Network, which is monitoring Haliburton County’s vet shortage.

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