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Published May 13, 2013, 09:19 AM

Easing the need

With new federal animal identification rules, inspecting veterinarians also have the responsibility of certifying the identification numbers, which are listed on the certificates of health.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven says he is in early talks with veterinarians and sale barns about whether to expand tasks that supervised, nonveterinarians can do at sale barns.

Oedekoven says the issue has been escalating in the past decade, but became urgent last fall when four of the state’s 35 sale barns at one point had temporarily lost contracted services of a local veterinarian. The four markets were able to find new veterinarians, but the industry is renewing the conversation.

Oedekoven says state laws require a licensed veterinarian to be at auction markets before, during and after sales. The primary reason is to prevent the spread of diseases in the livestock population.

Markets are regulated by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, but also by the federal Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration and the Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service. The regulations stretch back to when the state and industry were fighting high-profile challenges such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, hog cholera and pseudorabies which are mostly eradicated, but always a threat in the background. Producers pay inspection fees, which go to Oedekoven’s office, and then are reimbursed to the inspecting veterinarian.

The AIB, which licenses auction markets in the state, maintains that a veterinarian is necessary at the market to ensure disease prevention and regulatory compliance. With new federal animal identification rules, inspecting veterinarians also have the responsibility of certifying the identification numbers, which are listed on the certificates of health.

A separate South Dakota Veterinary Medical Examining Board licenses veterinarians and determines what functions a registered veterinary livestock assistant — nonveterinarian — can perform under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

“I think the discussion will be had between markets and veterinarians about what options exist for paraprofessionals to assist veterinarians in their duties so the work at sale barns can be accomplished efficiently and without compromise of the quality of the work,” Oedekoven says. There is no formal timetable for these discussions, but he thinks meetings might be held this summer.

Services provided

Service work includes pregnancy checking, which has both commercial and regulatory functions for such purposes as reducing the incidence of trichmoniasis, a reproductive cattle disease. States such as South Dakota and North Dakota require cows imported to be sold for breeding purposes to be confirmed bred prior to coming into the states, Oedekoven says.

Veterinarians also perform castrations, vaccinations, deworming and other service-type work at the auction markets, all of which must be done by a veterinarian.

Oedekoven says in the past, being a livestock auction veterinarian was more lucrative than it is today, but it is also a lot of hard physical work involving long hours.

“We have been identified as a ‘food animal shortage area’ for purposes of the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program,” Oedekoven says, meaning veterinarians working there can apply for student loan debt aid. The program attempts to attract veterinarians for the food service animal industry to rural areas where they may be in short supply.

In a separate but related issue, Oedekoven confirms he’s in talks with state livestock groups and other stakeholders to determine whether and how to promote changes in state law on animal cruelty penalties. North Dakota passed a new law in the 2013 Legislature that allows felony penalties in some animal cruelty cases, which makes South Dakota the only state without any felony penalties.

“Whether that’s a valid concern or not, we will be a target for changes by those who feel we need stronger penalties for animal cruelty,” Oedekoven says. A bill was defeated in the South Dakota Senate Agriculture Committee. The committee chairwoman asked Oedekoven to meet with proponents of the defeated bill, and with livestock groups, to discuss potential changes. A similar conversation took place in 2010, but participants then determined state laws were adequate.

“Nobody has more interest in the welfare of their animals than livestock producers, because it’s the lifeblood of our economy,” Oedekoven says. “The welfare of those animals drives productivity, so it’s difficult to be told they are deficient.”

As in North Dakota, there seems to be some interest among some livestock groups and other stakeholders to identify appropriate penalties for egregious animal abuse, he says.