Students learn the ropes of farm work - Veterinary Practice
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Students learn the ropes of farm work

Graham Duncanson attended a student congress in Bristol on farm animal work and found it to be ‘a marvellous step forward for the profession’ with enormous enthusiasm shown by more than 140 undergraduates

THE Bristol Farm Animal
Veterinary Society hosted the
Association of Veterinary Students
annual congress at the University of
Bristol in February: it was a high
spot for the profession.

I have never seen such an
enthusiastic group. The whole attitude
of the attending students, more than
140, heralds a marvellous step forward
for the profession. There is no talk
now of the Bristol veterinary school
not meeting the standards of the
RCVS inspection.

The university dairy farm is state
of the art.

Not only
does it play a
large part in
the student
training but it
also makes a
profit. Gone
is the rubbish
idea that veterinary students do not
want to do farm work. Gone is the
idea that the weaker sex cannot carry
out clinical farm work. The message
for farmers throughout the country is:
“A strong woman is a lot better than a
weak man.”

Professor Jo Price, head of the vet
school, gave the opening address. She
must take considerable credit for the
resurgence of the school as it is her
leadership which has steered it
forward. In 1948 The Loveday Report
indicated that as Great Britain required
more food it required more veterinary
schools to produce more farm vets.
Bristol and Cambridge rose to the

Deer health covered

The congress did not just confine itself
to cows, sheep and pigs, although
obviously they were the main focus. In
fact the first lecture was on deer health
and disease. It was excellently
presented by Dr Pete Goddard, who
was sponsored by the Veterinary Deer

I make no apology for going
through the lecture in some detail as
the information is not widely available.
Pete explained that there are
approximately 400 premises where
farmed deer, which are totally separate
from wild deer, are produced. They
number over 35,000 of which the
majority are Red deer although some
Fallow deer are also farmed. The
world leader is New Zealand where
over a million deer are farmed.

Red deer stags weigh 300kg with
the hinds weighing considerably less at
150-200kg. The stags are extremely
dangerous, particularly during the
“rut” which occurs in the autumn.
Only one stag is required for between 30 and 40 hinds. The gestation period
averages 233 days and the calves are
born in early summer. Breeding tends
to end when the stags have lost 20%
of their bodyweight.

Only the stags have antlers. Pete
explained that the only exception was
reindeer females which also have
antlers. The antlers in most species of
deer are shed at the end of winter.
Their growth is controlled by
testosterone levels. If stags are
castrated you can get weird antler

It is illegal to remove the “velvet”, the soft initial covering of the antlers,
in the UK. It is permitted in New
Zealand where it is harvested for
medicinal purposes.

The audience was made aware of
the danger of the single spike horns
found on the 18-month-old males.
These are dangerous not only to man
but also to other deer.

The calving season should be short
as late born calves have a high
mortality. Calves should be weaned in
mid-September to allow the hinds to
be grouped into rutting groups. Deer
have a very low replacement rate,
unlike cattle.

The sale of meat is controlled by
the regulations which control other red
meat. Pete stressed that farmed deer
were very different from wild deer and
this had been brought about by the
three Ts: taming, training and

The main zoonotic disease
affecting deer is TB, mercifully this
was extremely rare in wild deer. It had
virtually been eradicated in farmed
deer in New Zealand by controlling
the wild possums. On rare occasions
avian TB will cause scouring in older
deer. Johne’s disease affects deer earlier
than cattle and causes scouring in

On the whole, endoparasites are not a big problem in deer as there is
normally a low stocking rate. Fluke will
occur but also this parasite is not a
major problem as deer tend to migrate
to higher land away from wet areas in
the summer when metacerariae are
active. Type 2 Ostertagia has been
recorded as have lungworm,
coccidiosis and cryptosporosis. Pour-
on treatment products, although
attractive for ease of administration,
are not recommended in deer.
Tapeworm cysts and sarcocystis have
been found in the meat.

As I am sure readers are aware, the
cattle warble fly Hypoderma bovis has
been eradicated from the UK but the
deer warble fly Hypoderma diana still
occurs. Deer will get nasal bots, Oestrus
, and can be irritated by the horn
fly Hydrotea irritans. Contrary to
popular belief, deer do not spread
Lyme disease. However, deer do tend
to increase the tick vector Ixodes ricinis.

Deer will not show clinical signs
but will help spread other pathogens
spread by ticks, notably Louping-ill
virus, Babesia capreoli and Erlichia
. Young deer in their first
autumn may succumb to Yersinia spp.
Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) has
been reported as a cause of sudden
death in deer when they have been
running with sheep.

Where other farm livestock in
certain areas suffer from deficiencies
of copper, selenium and cobalt, deer
will do the same. However, Pete urged
the audience not to give added copper
unless the animals had been proven to
have a deficiency by blood testing.

Making it interesting

Bristol veterinary school is very lucky
to have Professor David Barrett. Not
only does he manage to make a
potentially very dry subject, “The
responsible use of medicines in farm
animals”, interesting but he also plays
a very prominent role in student
affairs. I repeat his call for all of us to
report adverse reactions on line.

All of us were enthralled by Roger
Blowey’s talk on the recent dramatic
advances in our understanding of
lameness. My main take-home
message was that hoof knives,
clippers, etc., might transmit bacteria
and so I will definitely be really
cleaning these between animals.

Of special interest to the students
was the final lecture of the morning
by Nick Shorter on Expectations of a
new graduate, what the farmers want

In the afternoons there was a wide
variety of practicals and seminars. On
topics such as lameness (trimming
practical with cadavers, etc.), fertility,
sheep, goats and camelids, disease
(BVD and Johne’s), chickens (including post-mortems), pigs
(interactive post-mortem), VPH and
food health, cattle husbandry, and

Talking to the delegates, they were
very well received and all were
thought to be well worthwhile.

There was a full turn-out on
Sunday morning which shows the
determination of these young people,
considering the excellent dinner and
ceilidh the night before.

Sara Pedersen and her colleagues
from Nantwich Farm Vets started the
morning with an excellent seminar and
practical demonstration on calving
cows. This was followed by a very
useful talk on calf pneumonia from a
new graduate’s perspective by Oliver
Tilling, who has a wealth of

The final lecture was given by
Shona Young on the sheep calendar.
Shona has a real handle on sheep
farming and made many useful new
observations to a much-described

In conclusion, this was a first-rate
learning experience. All the organisers
and the instructors need to be
congratulated. I also take my hat off
(I needed one as it never seemed to
stop raining) to all the students whose
enthusiasm and caring attitude should
be applauded.

Not only did they enjoy
themselves but also they appeared to
enjoy the learning experience. They
also managed to raise over £200 for
the farmers in Somerset suffering as a
result of the recent flooding.

I am delighted that the congress
will be repeated next year and I wish
the Nottingham vet school the best of
luck. This was a very hard act to

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