On the face of it, having a few farmer meetings and involving vets in training sounds pretty straightforward. Even printing up a few brightly coloured tee shirts, some leaflets and posters isn’t really all that complicated.
Training initiatives, over the years, have been many and varied and so one more is easy to overlook. There is,however, something rather special going on that is bonding clients to veterinary practices, expanding the knowledge base and developing a sense of involvement. It doesn’t appear to be the content as such. The success is more to do with the people.
The script issued by XL Vets refers to “knowledge transfer”. This is to be delivered by vets and other specialists, but it soon becomes clear from conversations that this transfer is very much two way.
The vets involved had to learn not to give lectures. PowerPoint presentations are not the thing. Know the subject and allow the group to learn from one another.
It may appear to be a negative, but the vet who offered a course on preventing milk fever to a client who said that he would only attend if the farmer mentioned in the supporting leaflet was also participating, actually delighted the vet.
The veterinary practice may be arranging the courses but the level of involvement is active on the day and is now being seen in improved husbandry on the farm.
There is another not so obvious benefit in that the vet becomes more confident in his client. Medicines are delivered more accurately because their use is better understood. Early signs of disease are detected and better decisions made when farmer treatment is required or to recognise that a vet is called for.
The success of treatment is seen to be improved, the benefits of the knowledge transfer are recognised and another member of the farm staff turns out for a further skills session. Confidence by the vet in the herdsman or stockman is reflected in that the farm staff have an on-going detailed conversation with the vet on later farm visits. Spending six hours or so on a farm with a small group of,perhaps, seven other farmers and the vet achieves a great deal, but it doesn’t just happen.
The XL Vets Farm Skills programme has established a nationwide consistency with local training delivery. More than 45 veterinary surgeons have undertaken a full five-day LANTRA awards programme of learning and instructional techniques development.
A further 47 have undertaken the two-day starter programme and many of these will be upgrading over the coming months. To date, 156 courses from Scotland to Cornwall have been run with over 1,000 farmers attending in group workshops of six to eight people.
There are several species groups including dairy, beef, sheep and pigs with courses that have also included poultry, business management and land management.
The farmers suggest the topics and the vets put together the local programme, with colleges and other partners having an important role.
Technical literature supports the whole initiative and the one aspect that is outstanding, if you scan a number of leaflets, is the people. Although the talk is of disease and problem solving, there is a thread of concentrating on the impact and aspirations of both the vets and the farmers.
It must be satisfying for all those who have been promoting and developing the acceptance of health planning to read the words of a pedigree beef farmer: “Twenty years ago, people used to buy cattle on their looks. But now, people ring up and the first question is ‘What’s the health status of your cattle?’ Only once they know we’ve none of the four main infectious diseases, do they then ask for figures and want to come and look.”
Or the comment from a dairy farmer: “I simply don’t want other people’s cattle’s diseases. I’ve had my fingers burnt in the past – bringing in a sweeper bull with Campylobacter.”
There is much talk at present about financial cutbacks. The regional agencies have different priorities but it is expected that each industry will have to fight much harder for a slice of any budget.
When the XL Vets’ initiative was launched last September there was money in most regional kitties to provide a first class training programme with a modest contribution from the farmer participants. No doubt various folk are working hard to make sure that their particular subject continues without interruption.
It is interesting that for the farmers who have taken part in the initial Farm Skills courses, money has not been seen as a main issue. It is the immediate and long-term value of the skills gained that is being purchased, not a cheap or free day out.
No doubt many commercial organisations will look to increase their involvement and that will be a good thing if the various parts of the industry are supporting each other.
A further point that is relevant is that the programme is not limited to members of XL Vets. Veterinary practices that are not members have also joined in with the vet training and contributed to the farmer groups.One of the main aims is “to drive towards a consistency of farmer skills workshops across the UK”.
There are problems. In conversation it is pointed out that a recent course on
DIY AI had to be cancelled a few days before because not enough people had signed up, only for five farmers to ’phone up the day before to say they wanted to attend. Maybe the weather changed. But the course will be rearranged and perhaps the next time there will be firm commitments.
It may be that a portable cabin will be utilised to hold training materials, tea, coffee, etc., so that a course is self-contained near to the animals or practical facilities. There are various possible developments based on experience but if participation in courses is mentioned to the vets who have been involved, there is soon a discussion about what is gained by the vets,by the farmers and hopes for the future.
The website www.farm-skills.co.uk details the nearly 40 courses being run during the current quarter. The Farm Skills banners and literature are being displayed at over 20 exhibitions and agricultural shows around the country as part of the XL Vets programme. The various items of literature are available to be downloaded. There is a promotional strapline that indicates the aim of delivering “a healthy industry with healthy animals”.
The photo (at left) shows it is never too early to start husbandry training. Within the artificial sheep is a fluffy lamb, which the little girl successfully delivered with mum and dad offering encouragement. Mum then moved on to examination of the cow containing all sorts of items to be identified.
- My thanks to Sophie Throup (farm skills manager at XL Vets) for collating the national details and to Wendy van Winden (Penbode), Tony Kemmish (St Boniface) and Matt Berriman (Rosevean) for enthusing about their experiences. Detailed information is available from Sophie: email@example.com