Veterinary Services for Livestock

SIC 0741

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry consists of establishments of licensed practitioners primarily engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine, dentistry, or surgery for cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, and poultry. Similar establishments primarily engaged in veterinary medicine for all other animals are classified in SIC 0742: Veterinary Services for Animal Specialties.

Roughly half the food Americans eat is derived from animals in the form of meat and dairy products. Thus, the focus of this industry is largely aimed at maintaining adequate and safe food supplies for humans through the treatment of livestock injuries and diseases. Because disease accounts for billions of dollars in lost revenue for the livestock industry--around $3 billion in the first decade of the 2000s--veterinary establishments specializing in preventive medicine for larger animals (cattle, sheep, and swine) are integral to increasing livestock productivity and profitability.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarians held about 54,100 jobs in May 2009. About 80 percent of veterinarians were employed in a solo or group practice, and about 20 percent of all veterinarians worked in mixed animal practices, where they attended to pigs, goats, sheep, and some non-domestic animals, in addition to companion animals. A small number of veterinarians in private practice worked exclusively with large animals, mostly horses or cows; some also cared for various kinds of food animals. State and local governments, colleges of veterinary medicine, medical schools, research laboratories, animal food companies, and pharmaceutical companies also employed veterinarians.

In contrast to the rest of the veterinary industry, where services are most often rendered in a clinic or hospital setting, most veterinary services for livestock are performed on-site--that is, in a barn, out in the field, or on a ranch. The mean annual salary for a veterinarian in May 2008 was $79,050; the lowest 10 percent made less than $46,610 and the highest 10 percent made more than $143,660. The middle 50 percent earned between $61,370 and $104,110. A vet working for the federal government earned an average of $93,398 in March 2009. The average starting salary for a livestock practitioner treating predominantly large animals was approximately $57,475 in 2008, while veterinarians treating large animals exclusively earned just over $62,424. The average starting annual salary for equine veterinarians was $41,636 in 2008. In comparison, small animal and general practice veterinarians earned an average starting salary of $64,744 and $58,522, respectively.

The USDA provides veterinary services for researching livestock regulatory medicine. In the late years of the first decade of the 2000s, the U.S. government employed approximately 1,300 veterinarians, largely in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine. Federally employed veterinarians engaged in the control or elimination of livestock disease and the protection of the public from animal diseases.

The 2002 Farm Bill applied more stringent measures to the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA) designed to control livestock disease. Maximum civil fines were boosted to $50,000 for individuals caught smuggling animals or animal byproducts into the United States. In addition, fines for those determined to be smuggling such goods for other than personal use were raised to $250,000 per violation. Many of the provisions were retained, and some added, in the 2008 Farm Bill, which replaced the 2002 version in May 2008. As part of the Homeland Security Act, passed in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Veterinary Services Division secured additional funding to safeguard U.S. animal and food supplies.

The Livestock and Poultry Sciences Institute, another branch of the USDA, conducted research with the aim of increasing profitability, production efficiency, and the quality and value of livestock products. The institute was comprised of nine laboratories and three service units.

Although the practice of caring for and treating animals dates back to ancient Egypt, veterinary services in the United States did not develop until the late 1880s, in response to the growth of the livestock industry. A growing concern for public health in relation to the meat supply gave rise to a need for trained individuals capable of curing and preventing livestock diseases. Scientific veterinary journals had emerged around 1850, and the first U.S. veterinary colleges were established in 1852 and 1854 in Philadelphia and New York, respectively. Iowa State University was the first publicly supported veterinary college.

The increasing population of the United States has created the need for additional food-producing animals. The late twentieth century emphasis on scientific methods of breeding and raising livestock and poultry became even more prevalent, requiring additional specialization in the area of veterinary services for these animals. Advances in livestock production also have created a need for veterinary services related to contamination of the food chain by toxic chemicals. Thus, the demand for veterinary services related to the livestock industry has increased, especially in the area of nutrition and disease control, as the continued integration of veterinary services with the livestock industry is essential in order to address issues of food safety, quality of environment, and animal welfare.

As the first decade of the twenty-first century neared a close, the United States was facing a shortage in veterinarians. As of 2010, there were 28 U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine, with the combined capacity to graduate about 2,500 veterinarians a year. Most of those graduates were choosing to practice on small animals. At this rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and due to the projected increase in population, there will be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by 2025. There was already a shortage of 1,500 veterinarians in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security as well as in biosecurity, domestic and foreign animal disease research, rural practice, wildlife disease control, animal care and welfare, and laboratory animal care and research.

According to a 2010 report by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), rural communities were finding it more and more difficult to find and retain veterinarians. In surveys of why veterinarians chose to both enter and leave rural practice, the AVMA found that the desire for the rural lifestyle ranked first on why veterinarians decided to set up shop in rural communities. Other factors included the desire to work at the herd level, family and community benefits, and the demand for vets in these areas. The surveys also revealed that vets cited emergency duty and the lack of time off as the two top reasons for abandoning their rural practices. Salary was named as another concern as rural vets tended to have lower incomes than veterinarians who practiced in more populated regions.

Another challenge facing young veterinarians in the early 2010s was the increasing cost of education, so that many vets were leaving graduate school with thousands of dollars worth of debt. They could either work on a salary basis with another veterinarian or an agency or they must establish a viable business that can provide funds to repay loans as well as provide a sufficient quality of life. In the challenging economic environment of the late years of the first decade of the 2000s and early 2010s, many young veterinarians were finding this a daunting task. In 2010, the USDA undertook a program to help some veterinarians repay their student loans in exchange for serving in underserved areas of the country. In addition, to address the growing shortage of food animal vets, the AVMA, through its charitable arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, announced its intention to provide financial incentives in the form of debt forgiveness to veterinarians who commit four years to food animal veterinary medicine.

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