Old farmers, young vets, and the impact of Brexit on agriculture…

The chief fire officer recently requested that we use the term fire fighter and not fireman, in order to encourage and support females into the profession.

My profession has already made this demographic shift, from a male dominated profession 40 years ago to 90 percent female graduates now. The selection process and the course itself means that the young women graduating are amongst the most determined and gifted of their generation and it is a special privilege to have them in the profession. The difficulty is that young women tend to have families and we as a profession in Northern Ireland have made no provision to cope with this.

The obligation to provide 24/7 cover when practises average 3 or 4 vets means organising shifts on anything which approaches a family friendly or even legal basis is impossible. This failure to adapt and accommodate means that young women are leaving the profession or becoming part time at an even faster rate than the old men are retiring at the other end. The opening up of the profession to European graduates ten years or so ago was a lifesaver but now those early immigrant’s are returning home and brexit and the euro is slowing the resupply.

Small animal margins are determined by the emotional attachment of owners and this work is expanding almost infinitely. Farm work margins are determined by the profitability of agriculture which is subsidised to a subsistence level.

The graduate pool are international and cosmopolitan young ladies used to university city lifestyle. How are we to attract them to market towns in NI and get them to spend half their career monotonously TB testing in the company of farmers who are mostly OAPs. We have to compete for them with the corporate veterinary companies in GB who offer no out of hours as a routine and whose margins allow them to offer graduates wages some partners here dream of.

Soon Brexit will hit and all our agrifood exports no longer coming from EU abattoirs and dairies will need much more veterinary certification in order to meet international trade rules. NI is particularly dependent on this industry and will need more new vets than most. Where are they to come from.

The old men who meet in rooms to discuss how to manage a profession dominated by young women, do not seem to be able to take the not so radical decisions needed. Co operation like doctors to provide out of hours and handing over TB testing to lay staff to free up man sorry women hours would be an obvious start.


  • puffin

    Grow up and look after hamsters.

  • Korhomme

    Vets train to look after sick animals. Working in an abattoir isn’t what I guess many really wanted to do. I understand that, in the UK, such work isn’t so well paid. Further, it’s said that many such abattoir vets are from the EU. After Brexit, how will abattoirs attract vets?

  • notimetoshine

    “How are we to attract them to market towns in NI and get them to spend half their career monotonously TB testing in the company of farmers who are mostly OAPs. We have to compete for them with the corporate veterinary companies in GB who offer no out of hours as a routine and whose margins allow them to offer graduates wages some partners here dream of.”

    Well the obvious solution to this pressure is to pay them more and charge accordingly for those services. There always seems to be a hesitation throughout all sectors of the economy to pay wages commensurate with the demand for a profession or job role, or to accept that higher pay may be required to attract employees to jobs with less ‘attractive’ working conditions or locations (such as a small NI market town).

  • William Kinmont

    The market forces between small and large animal work are not equal the margins in farming put a ceiling on charges .

  • William Kinmont

    This is I suppose part of the problem, a few years ago very few people would have been prepared to spend more on a hamster than the price of a hamster now specialist hamster practise is a thing and people take their hamsters to the vet much more often and spending a few hundred on one is not unheard of. Hamsters etc are soaking up veterinary time.

  • William Kinmont

    Apparently as much as 95 percent of our abbetoir vets are foreign. The pay is well ahead of farm work currently and I guess the margins would be there to pay more the to throughput. Post brexit our abbetoirs, fairies etc will not be in the EU (obviously) that means that where ever we want our food it will be as a third country and international trade demands each container or lorry be inddividually inspected and certified by a vet. Current estimates suggest a 300 percent increase in workload , see BVA report.

  • Roger

    The Philippines maybe.

  • Roger

    Veterinary Surgeons who work in abattoirs “get pay that’s ahead of farm work”…”apparently”. Farm work. Farm work.

    Veterinary Surgeons v Farm Hands.

    You don’t say. Gosh that’s a surprise. I wonder if they are better paid than McDonalds servers…

  • Roger

    UK will retake full control of immigration. They can get vets from Asia.
    Pakistani doctors have been a common sight in UKNI hospitals for a couple of generations.

  • Brian O’Neill

    He means vets who work on farms.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Teaching has become mostly female.

  • Passing By

    Ten years ago, I read about the Canadians having similar difficulties. Opening the profession to women had the unforeseen consequence of farmers not having enough vets willing or able to work with large animals. So puppies, kittens, parrots and hampsters well-catered for, cattle and horses not so much.

  • Karl

    “are amongst the most determined and gifted of their generation and it is a special privilege to have them in the profession.”
    “young women tend to have families”
    “cosmopolitan young ladies”

    Three examples I see from the article of inequality women have to face in the industry before you even look at the points raised.

  • This is a misconception.
    Large animals are more and more rarely handled by people, includi g the farmer. They have not been socislised with regard to us human animals.
    This means they are more dangerous. The use of ctushes, pens and other aids negates the difference beteeen a man or woman’s strength. No person can physically force an animal with hundeds of kilos of muscle. Even with aids there are moments of inherent danger, especially with unsocialised animals.
    Some farmers expect the vet to take all the risk on, and make no attempt to restrain the animal. These farmers tend to demonise the vet, if said vet ibsists on the farmer readying the animal. Persons with this attitude will of course take a backward attude against women vets, as an easy and trite means of complaint.
    With regard to small animal:
    this is physucally demanding in its own way. Dogs dont place themselves on tables, in cages. Dogs and cats dont losr their teeth and claws when they enter a practice.
    Finally, most vets are poorly paid, and work very long hours. You may be awareof the prosperous partner. But you are not aware of the super exploited employed vet, a very large percentage, bullied by the employer, who encourages mobbing and cliques in the workplace.

  • Surveyor

    Dare I say encourage more men to become vets?

  • Brian O’Neill

    Maybe William can clarify salary but from

    The average starting salary is around £31,150 for a newly-qualified vet.
    The average salary of a vet with further training and experience, at a small animal practice, is £41,148 and in a large animal practices this can rise to £44,142.
    Senior vets with over 20 years’ experience can earn up to £69,021.
    Experienced vets employed in industry earn around £59,106.

  • Croiteir

    Why would someone want to be wrestling with a hurt heifer in a freezing shed in the middle of the night unless they were getting well paid for it? The ladies have more sense. ” Come during working hours to our nice warm surgery” seems to be a far more sensible proposition – unless of course you wish to pay through the snout, then I might get the wellies on.

  • These figures do not relate to what a vet gets, on the ground.They are fantasy.
    And further, the hours that vets work on average:
    8am start, UNBROKEN (ie no breaks) consults and procedures until 7.30 pm that night. Five days a week. With one-in three on call (On call one week night and one weekend) – on call usually means servicing the Saturday, and often Sunday, surgeries. And working the emergencies that do actually, regularly, turn up.
    The hours are punishing. Rotas do vary, but there are very few vet practices where the employer does not get the maximum output from his employees.
    We all have direct experience of, and suffer, unpleasant and demeaning work. At least most people do. Bearing in mind this experience one needs to have the wit to generalise from that. The exploitation is not a problem that is particular to your workplace or job type. It is a universal social problem.
    Taking a lazy attitude to vets, for instance (it’s all like Rolf Harris sentimentality with Jemima Furry Paws passing through Shang Ri La Vets on her way back to her loving owners from Happy Land).
    Starting salaries for vets will vary off course. But £20 to 25, 000 is the truer picture on the ground, and you might reach 35, 000 after 10 years. There are exceptions of course. I di mention cliques and bullying. Often ther is an ensconced favourite vet around whom the rota revolves, and who is paid much more.
    There is a very large drop-out rate from veterinary, and a very high suicide rate.

  • The relentless vampire-like character of many, many veterinary employers has only been accentuated by the takeover and ongoing encroachment of corporations into veterinary (as in all walks of the professions – the universal again). Squeezing the independents. Or indeed encouraging them to seek even bigger current returns so they get a bigger price when they sell to the corporation. There is a real world out there, and prospects.ac.uk has it’s own agenda.

  • lizmcneill

    What’s stopping them from doing this before Brexit?

  • Roger

    Well that makes sense!

  • Roger

    Nothing. But need hasn’t been there.

  • epg_ie

    Long-term, this is going to become a more costly input to farming and will indeed increase the penalty for low-margin producers.
    Agri-food may yet do ok, but with much much less labour input, more concentrated capital and land holdings, and more imports from countries with efficient producers at any point where that becomes viable.

  • Old Mortality

    Is the prevalence of foreign vets in abbatoir work the consequence of having a more feminised profession? I’m making the possibly sexist assumption that females are less inclined to work in abbatoirs.
    I’m a bit puzzled by your prediction of a trebling in workload- surely all abbatoir output needs to be inspected and certified currently even if it is destined for elsewhere in the EU.

  • Georgie Best

    There is a problem here with professionals in that they may less willing to work in poorer areas. A dentist might do implants and teeth whitening in the Malone road rather than serving basic dental health in a poorer area. Some intervention might be needed, like scholarships for country folk who would then be required to work in agriculture for some years.

  • William Kinmont

    Much increased inspection of we are a third country. Don’t know the breakdown male v female in abbatoir would doubt the breakdown is much different than other aspects of practise male v female . The trebling estimate is based on a BVA Rcvs goverment studdy

  • William Kinmont

    All sadly my experience too. Salaries I think are in for a hike. I have seen The favored assistant to, someone who is being steered towards partnership. Usually male.

  • William Kinmont

    It has no constant out of hours and is a bit more family friendly in terms of timings. You don’t get an emergency long division at 3 am on a regular basis.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    How much of a factor is the lack of undergraduate veterinary training in NI?
    I’ll confess I’m not familiar with the profession, but from memory the only place to study veterinary medicine in Ireland is at UCD. So the school leaver at 18/19 years of age making their career choices is going to have to go to UCD or to GB, meaning only those already sure about the career path will take the jump. Then you face the task of attracting them back to NI to work in farming.

    For all the emphasis on the agri-food sector as vital to our economy, it seems like a massive oversight that we can’t actually train vets. Would there be any value in an agriculture-specific undergraduate / postgraduate course somewhere like AFBI or CAFRE, accredited by one of the GB veterinary colleges?

  • Georgie Best

    If you live in Fermanagh it makes little difference if you go to UCD or QUB and some places are reserved for NI applicants.

  • notimetoshine

    Doesn’t sound like there are any easy answers. With the tight margins you mention, rising veterinary costs might not be possible. In some ways this problem seems quite similar to the overall crisis in GP provision in the UK.

    I can’t say I know much of anything about Veterinary medicine, and I am loathe to see deskilling in a profession, but could the provision of veterinary ‘paramedics’ or other less trained personnel ease the strain? Or is the nature of the work too complex for anything less than a trained vet?

  • Reader

    Karl: Three examples I see from the article of inequality women have to face in the industry before you even look at the points raised.
    The language seems a bit old fashioned (in a courteous manner), doesn’t it? And the second point did ring a bell in my head (“so do young men!”).
    However, the first point is merely patronising, and the second and third points were worth making because they are directly *causing* a long term change in career progression and practice in the veterinary profession.
    I don’t think any of the quotes are anything to do with inequality.

  • Brian O’Neill

    The dental practice I go to specialises in cosmetic dentistry. Judging by the brand new Porsche outside it would be safe to assume that is were the money is. To be fair to them they do also do a lot of NHS work on plebs like me.

  • William Kinmont

    i have been the exploited employee and now the employer. i have genuinely tried to avoid being the exploiter up until now with some success my staff have all stayed much longer than average , i have provided lots of backup and support never begrudgingly, i have always felt that i can learn as much from new vets as they from me. I have happily dumped the clients who didnt want women on the farm , they usually had so many other complaints that they wetnt worthwhile anyway. Now however with no job applicants to replace staff leaving my remaining staff are being pushed too hard , i have no problem remunerating this extra work but it isnt sustainible for the staffs health , I need more staff to reduce pressures and workload yet none apply. Have you a concept of what might attract someone to rural practise?

  • William Kinmont

    senior vet in Daera probably or in industry but not in mixed practise might get the 70k The forty K bracket for experirnced vets is more than i pay myself. The 31k starting salary would be availible in some Gb practises and at least one here, mine! if anyone would apply.