Bill would broaden preg-checking optionsWritten by Jennifer Womack
Cheyenne – Legislation being sponsored at the 2009 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature by Representative Lisa Shepperson (R-Midwest) would allow individuals other than licensed veterinarians to pregnancy check cattle and charge for their services.
“It’s extremely hard to get a vet to come pregnancy check your cows,” says Shepperson. “We currently use two vets and they’re both busy and do thousands of cattle and sheep a year.”
Shepperson says there just aren’t enough vets in the state. She says the legislature has begun to address the shortage of large animal veterinarians in the state with the Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program approved last session, an effort she hopes will bolster the number of vets in the state.
“In the meantime, ranchers need a way to get their cattle processed in a timely fashion,” says Shepperson. According to current state law, she says non-veterinarians can’t provide pregnancy checking services for a fee.
As of Jan. 21, HB166 had been introduced and referred to the House Agriculture Committee.
Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece says his group has come out in support of the legislation and would like to see it amended to include sheep.
“With the apparent shortage of large animal vets, and the future appearing to be bleak as far as recruitment of large animal vets, particularly vets with an interest and expertise in sheep, our industry needs as many options as we can have to provide these types of services,” says Reece.
Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan doesn’t support the legislation. “My personal opinion, which may or may not reflect that of the board,” says Logan, “is that it would not help the livestock industry.” Logan says the same goals that the legislation pursues could be achieved without new legislation.
Logan says, “It is currently legal for an employee of a producer to do the pregnancy checking for that producer. It is also legal for a lay person to do it as long as they do not charge for it.”
“As a producer,” says Gillette rancher and veterinarian Eric Barlow, who is also a member of the Wyoming Livestock Board, “I am very concerned about the availability of food animal veterinarians 10 years from now.” While the veterinary loan legislation is off to a great start, Barlow says it will take several years to know if it’s truly meeting its goal of recruiting additional large animal veterinarians to the state.
“As a veterinarian,” says Barlow, “my practice is 80 percent ultrasound pregnancy evaluation in cattle and sheep. There isn’t enough time in the day from Sept. 1 until Dec. 15 and Feb. 15 through March 15 to provide services to 20 percent of the requests I receive.” Barlow says those he is unable to provide services to fall into three categories — those who are interested in ultrasounding their livestock and the service is unavailable, services offered don’t meet their needs or they are having trouble getting pregnancy testing done within a reasonable timeframe.
“The dangers I see,” says Logan, “and the reasons this is currently under the veterinary act, is because there are reproductive and other diseases that, if a veterinarian is doing that service, might be diagnosed during the time that the animals are being preg tested.” Logan mentions trichomoniasis, vibrio, brucellosis and possibly BVD as examples.
“That happens in rare instances,” says Shepperson of disease issues discovered while pregnancy checking cows. “But it’s very rare that something is detected because the vet has come out to preg check. There are usually other signs, too.” She says many of those signs would be detected by another person pregnancy checking and be brought to the livestock owner’s attention.
Wyoming Veterinary Medical Association Vice President Dr. Fred Emerich says his organization doesn’t support the legislation. “A lay person,” says Emerich, “can say this cow is pregnant, but they don’t answer some of the other questions that pop up when they do the palpation. It’s really a genital exam for a variety of things besides just checking to see if there’s a viable fetus in the cow.”
“While we believe that the marketplace will likely provide enough protection in order to sort out those not qualified or under qualified to provide these services,” says Reece, “in my discussions with Representative Shepperson I also indicated our willingness to support setting up some sort of certification type of program if she decided that such an option was needed for passage of the bill. “
So far, Shepperson says she’s talked to members of the Agriculture Committee in both houses and seen good support. Representatives Amy Edmonds (R-Cheyenne), Glenn Moniz (R-Laramie), Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) and Dan Zwoniter (R-Cheyenne) have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. On the Senate side, the legislation has earned the co-sponsor support of senators Wayne Johnson (R-Cheyenne), John Schiffer (R-Kaycee) and Charles Scott (R-Casper).
“We all love our vets and we want more of them,” says Shepperson, “but we’re not a state that supports fencing out.” She says not allowing those other than vets to carry out pregnancy checking, despite advances in technology, is a scenario of “fencing out.”
“As a member of the WLSB,” says Barlow, “I am quite concerned with the distribution and availability of accredited veterinarians. These are the privately practicing veterinarians who provide health certificates for the interstate transport of livestock, perform brucellosis vaccination and testing, Coggins testing and other regulatory disease services. They are critical to the marketability and exportability of Wyoming livestock and are far undervalued for this role.”
“If we have legislation that allows lay people to do this, which they can currently do, it’s going to be that much more difficult to recruit veterinarians,” says Logan. “This is one of the aspects of practice that any food animal vet is going to depend on to make a living in this state. If it passes, it will be that much more difficult for us to recruit people.”
Emerich says, “There’s nothing that says someone can’t go to a training and pregnancy check their neighbors’ cattle. There’s nothing now that says they can’t do it. They just can’t charge for it.”
Barlow says, “There are other technical services, such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer and animal euthanasia, wherein the legislature has recognized the need to allow others to provide such services with oversight by the Board of Veterinary Medicine.”
“I’ve called a couple of legislators and asked them to back off on this and see if we can bring more vets in that can help meet the demands around the state,” says Emerich, who does contract work for the WLSB and was instrumental in developing the Vet Loan Repayment Program adopted during the 2007 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature.
“Bottom line,” says Reece, “this bill is long overdue and is positive for our industry, and we are appreciative of Representative Shepperson bringing this bill.”