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Q&A: Life as a New Zealand vet

Vet, Charlotte Berry grew up in Barton, Lancashire, on a dairy farm with her parents, David and Sara, and younger brother Philip.


Q: What prompted you to move to New Zealand?


A: I wanted to get as much experience as possible with dairy cows and New Zealand has an abundance of them.


I had heard of several other vets heading there and thought it would be a great opportunity.


Q: Where do you work and how does vet life differ in New Zealand from the UK?


A: I work at VetSouth in Gore, Southland. We have 16 large animal vets in Gore and a further 23 in Winton.


We cover the whole of Southland and branch into West Otago.


We have about 110,000 cows in Gore to service. With more cows per vet to look after compared to the UK, the general focus is more about overall herd health rather than individual cows - although we still see sick cows and do lots of calvings.


As our work is seasonal we will do whole herd metrichecking two to three weeks post-calving rather than routine weekly visits, treating several hundred non-cycling cows at once in herds of more than 1,000 cows.


Q: What is your daily and weekly routine?


A: Our daily and weekly routines depend on season. We just had spring in New Zealand and this involves calving cows; trace element testing for both the milking herd and yearling heifers; checking dirty cows, those with endometritis and non-cycling cows; and heifer synchrony programmes.


After Christmas we head into the scanning season. We will do up to three herds per day which can total up to 2,000 cows in a single day sometimes.


Q: What is the biggest difference being a vet in New Zealand compared to the UK?


A: There is more herd animal health planning and larger herds on farms.


Also, as calving is seasonal, we do everything on all the farms at the same time, rather than throughout the year. You soon get good at scanning after doing so many in a short period of time.


Q: What are the biggest animal health challenges for New Zealand farmers?


A: Lameness is a challenge due to the amount the cows walk each day.

Mastitis can also be an issue, especially after wintering in wet and muddy conditions.


Q: How does the cost of drugs and treatments compare with the UK?


A: I think veterinary fees in New Zealand are cheaper.


Hourly rates are about $170-$200 (£91-£108) per hour and a caesarean would generally cost $300 (£161) plus drugs on top.


Farmers tend to budget for animal health spend on a per-cow, per-season basis and the average in Southland is about $75-$80 (£40-£43). Just like in the UK, some farmers spend more than others.


Q: What role does the New Zealand Government play in supporting farmers from an animal health point of view?


A: There are a couple of organisations, namely the Ministry for Primary Industries and Assure Quality, which keep an eye on animal health when cows go to the slaughterhouse and also conduct annual shed inspections for all the dairy herds.


Q: There is a perception cows and sheep in New Zealand are generally healthier than those in the UK, is this true?


A: There are challenges to farmers both here and in the UK and these are different due to different farming systems.


In New Zealand, cattle and sheep are outside for the majority of the year, if not all the year, so they have to cope with all weather conditions and dairy cows often walk long distances to be milked twice daily.


With few cattle housed in New Zealand, air space for stock is cleaner with more room for them to graze and lie down compared to an indoor system.


Being outside also allows cows and sheep to lie in clean pasture, so they are generally cleaner.

Livestock numbers


Dairy herd 1.8million 6.5m
Beef herd 1.5m 3.7m
Sheep flock 22.6m 30.8m

*UK figures from December 2013 Defra statistics

*NZ figures from June 2013 Government statistics


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