Livestock production is robust in the area due to high quality feed/grazing resources, ideal climate, proximity to packers/transportation corridors (I-90 and Canada), and high-value markets (domestic/export). Livestock utilize byproduct feed from food processing facilities. Within the projected area (300,000+ acres), 180,000+ head of cattle, 4,000+ pigs and 7,500+ sheep are produced annually (per NASS statistics and WSU Extension). Not included are a significant number of honey bee colonies, ranch horses, working/livestock guardian dogs and goats. The sustainability/expansion of current livestock farms is limited by the availability of food animal veterinarians. Local livestock associations have reported that producers are driving 2+ hours to seek regular and emergency care. Veterinarians are necessary to manage herd health, aid in tracking movement, producer education, identification of zoonotic diseases and guarding food animal safety. Availability of services are endangered due to the high ratio of food animals to practitioners. WSVMA currently lists one large animal practitioners in this area to service over 180,000 animals.
A veterinarian in this area would provide routine veterinary care for food animals (vaccine protocols, parasite control, pregnancy detection, and breeding soundness exam); regulatory vaccinations/testing in accordance with state/federal health programs (Trichomoniasis, TB, Brucella, B.Ovis, Q Fever), and brand inspection; certificate of veterinary inspection for interstate/international movement of animals; disease diagnostic (post-mortem evaluation/toxicology testing); and emergency veterinary services (surgical services, obstetrics, injury etc). Provide guidance and VFD for the use of feed and water antimicrobials in compliance with FDA regulations. The veterinarian would also work with local animal shows/exhibitions to aid in regulatory requirements and producer/community education. This veterinarian will not only serve as a valuable food animal health practitioner to the area but will be critical to the early detection and response to emerging and/or foreign animal diseases as our location is identified as high risk for diseases such as African Swine Fever or Foot and Mouth Disease due to proximity to international airports and ports. The veterinarian will also demonstrate and educate others on proper food animal welfare according to scientifically-based industry standards.
Recruitment of food animal veterinarians has become near impossible for rural practices in Central Washington because of location and salary disparity compared to small animal practices. Majority of the local veterinarians servicing food animals have been looking actively for associates/partners for 8+ years with minimal response. Job postings in national forums, local forums, universities have proved costly and unsuccessful. Supporting externships, mentorships and area students, while fulfilling, has also proved unsuccessful. Over 300 days of sunshine, mild winters, hunting/fishing, water/snow recreation, proximity to larger cities, and tight knit communities make a perfect environment to raise a family or start a small ranchette.
The shortage of veterinarians in the Columbia Basin has passed the critical issue level and is nearing crisis level. This shortage is not only impacting the care of food animals and potentially the production of safe food from these animals, but it is also greatly taking its toll on the mental and physical health of the current vets providing services in the area. Many practices are not taking new clients, thus leaving producers to resort to other means of getting medications and advice. The Columbia Basin important agriculture base relies heavily on animal agriculture to support the symbiotic relationship with crop production, forage and residue grazing, and food processing by-product utilization for economic and up-cycling benefits to both row crop and livestock producers. Without adequate food animal veterinarians in the area their either becomes issues that limit food animal production, thus impacting food security and safety, or the void is filled with improper/illegal care of animals, use of animal health products, transport of animals and reporting of diseases. An unmitigated situation will negatively impact animal production in our area, affect human health, and create risk to biosecurity and food safety. Compliance with animal health regulations may suffer as well. Proximity to international borders raises likelihood of undetected imported diseases.