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.

William Kinmont is the pen name of a vet in Northern Ireland.

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