TROUTVILLE, Va. (WFXR) — The gate slammed shut and another cow at Cave Hill Dairy Farm was in the special metal chute, the third one of the morning. Straps were placed around the cow, and its leg was hoisted to allow Dr. Hannah Varnell to inspect and trim the animal’s hoof. Not only does it make the job safer for the animal and the doctor, it substantially cuts the amount of time it takes to treat each animal.

“That’s a big deal because if we didn’t have this piece of equipment, we’d be working in chutes that the producer owns, sometimes they do have the ability to tie up a hoof,” said Varnell of Wellfarm Veterinary Consultants of Roanoke. “Other times we’re figuring out what boards we can use to bring up a hoof with ropes and lariats; much less secure.”

The piece of equipment she is talking about, a specialized chute that allows her to safely stabilize cattle for examination and treatment, was purchased through a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant set up to help tackle the problem of a nationwide shortage of large animal/farm animal veterinarians.

Dr. Hannah Varnell prepares to trim the hoof of a cow in a specialized chute purchased with USDA grant funds (Photo: George Noleff)

The farm veterinarian shortage has a direct impact on national security. The U.S. food supply depends on farmers, and farmers depend on large animal vets to keep their herds and flocks healthy.

Adding more farm veterinarians in the short term is not a realistic solution, but making the veterinarians we already have more efficient is a workable option. That is where the USDA grant program comes in. It allows veterinarians like Varnell to hire staff and purchase equipment that will allow them to treat more animals in the same amount of time.

“I can also treat them more safely, too, for the animal, for myself, for my team, and for the producers,” Varnell added.

Varnell emphasizes that while she treats individual animals during visits, herd health is the primary focus. And herd health depends on preventative medicine. Being more efficient allows her to visit more herds and consult with more farmers. That means healthier animals and a boost to U.S. food production.