Melbourne Veterinary School: supporting dairy production
A partnership between the University of Melbourne and dairy industry groups is creating new research and training opportunities for the next generation of dairy veterinarians. Andi Horvath and Clemmie Wetherall report:
From the field to the fridge, the Australian dairy industry is growing to become a world leader in innovation, sustainability and best practice in food production. The industry is the third largest exporter of dairy in the world and Australia’s third largest agricultural export product.
Research has played a key role in helping the industry find its way to the front of the pack, but back in 2010 a looming shortage of specialist dairy vets prompted a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, the Gardiner Foundation and Dairy Australia.
The partnership provided $1.4 million for research in areas of importance to local dairy communities and the future of the wider dairy industry, and out of this funding, a unique training scheme called the ‘Dairy Residents Program’ was initiated.
The ‘Dairy Resident’s Program’ involves on-farm research and practice for students as part of their course work for a Master of Veterinary Studies and Master of Veterinary Science by research.
The dairy residents are embedded for three years in one of four rural veterinary practices in Maffra, Warrnambool, Rochester and Timboon. During this time they conduct an on-farm research project, acquire knowledge and skills through advanced clinical training and develop expertise in whole-farm production programs.
The students also attend conferences and farmer meetings to update their knowledge and present their research to various industry stakeholders. In addition they are involved in the training of the next generation of dairy practitioners, hosting final year students from the Melbourne Veterinary School Doctor of Veterinary Medicine course.
Associate Professor Michael Pyman is senior lecturer in Dairy Cattle Medicine and Production at the University of Melbourne and supervisor of the residencies program. He believes the project will begin to address the shortage of experienced vets in rural areas by providing career opportunities in dairy practices and the wider dairy industry.
“The rural training scheme enables all veterinary students undertaking the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) to gain firsthand practical experience in dairy cattle medicine in practices managed by dedicated and skillful practitioners,” he says.
“We see this world-class training as crucial to maximising movement of these students into dairy and rural practice after graduation, an outcome vital to the productivity and sustainability of our rural sector.”
The four dairy resident vets enrolled in the second iteration of the project are now entering the second year of the three-year program and are already having positive impacts on farms, farmers, vet clinics, the next generation of vets, rural communities, the industry and the University.
Dr Kelly Plozza is a dairy resident at the Warrnambool Veterinary Clinic. She is conducting clinical trials in improving the reproductive performance of cows who do not display visible fertility cycles, known as non-cycling cows.
Dr Plozza says on-farm research has helped her build a better relationship with local farmers.
“That’s something you don’t have time for in a regular vet practice—you tend to be too busy running between jobs. It’s really nice to be able to revisit the farmers with your latest results and they are really excited about the scientific investigations. They love hearing about the research outcomes as much as we do because it opens up ideas for proactive intervention measures.”
Dr Plozza has been comparing current approaches for managing non-cycling cows, and the results are revealing useful information and more options for farmers. This is particularly important as non-cyclying cows can present problems for farmers trying to decide when they can be mated.
Over in Timboon, Dr Andy Hancock, is undertaking his residency with The Vet Group. He is studying how farmers manage bulls up to and during the breeding period and investigating if there is a correlation between bull management and fertility. As part of his research Dr Hancock has worked with 32 herds and examined 256 bulls prior to, and after, mating.
“As a vet you usually go out to farms to see a sick or problem animal but with this project I am usually seeing healthy animals, so the farmers are happy to see me,” he says.
Dr Hancock hopes his work will help refine the guidelines for fertility risk assessment in bulls, and says the residency has also helped him become a better vet.
“I’ve picked up a lot of extra skills that I would not necessarily learn during day-to-day vet practice, things like project management, time management and building rapport with clients, and of course technical research skills like conducting literature reviews and scientific report writing. The research gives your work a goal whilst ensuring you develop useful technical expertise.
“If you can contribute something to the knowledge base, that’s great in itself, but if your results improve farming practices that is a real bonus and on top of that we will be sharing it with fellow vets and trainee vets.”
Though only in their second year of research, the ‘Dairy Residents’ are already receiving industry recognition for their work.
Maffra based Dr Stephanie Bullen earned the title of 2013 Rural Ambassador, an award that recognises outstanding individuals dedicated to making contributions to the local community. Dr Bullen and her partner live on a 340-cow Holstein dairy farm and her research focuses on improving parasite control in young stock.
Resident Dr Ashley Phipps who is based at the Rochester Veterinary clinic was awarded a Greenham’s Dairy Scholarship, to help finance his research studies. Dr Phipps is investigating colostrum volume and management practices and its effect on the quality of the harvested colostrum.
He says he applied for the residency because he always had a strong interest in calves and calf health.
“This was a real interest area of mine and I thought there were gaps in our knowledge. Calves are the future of a herd, so I think we need to give more thought to how they are raised.”
Dr Phipps has already made inroads into understanding colostrum management practices on the four farms and 442 cows he is working with in Northern Victoria.
About the University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program
Program title: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Semester intake: Late February/early March 2015
Program duration: 4 years
Application deadline: December 23, 2014. It is strongly recommended that students apply at least three months prior to the program start date.
Eligible applicants must have completed
- an undergraduate science degree (minimum three-year degree with majors in Agriculture, Animal Science, Biochemistry, Biomedicine, Physiology or Zoology); and
- prerequisite subjects including at least one semester of study in each of cell biology or general biology, and biochemistry.
Selection into the University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program will be primarily based on academic achievement. Selection will be based on results (grades) obtained in your final year undergraduate science subjects as well as your second last year (penultimate) undergraduate science subjects, weighted 75:25 toward the final year subjects. Applicants with a 75% average or above should apply.