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Learning at U-Vet

Dairy Resident Training Program

Left to right: Dr Kelly Plozza, Dr Andy Hancock, Dr Stephanie Bullen & Dr Ashley Phipps

The Dairy Resident Training Program is a $1.4m partnership between the University of Melbourne, Dairy Australia, the Geoffrey Gardiner Foundation and four leading veterinary practices. The first round of the three-year training program commenced in 2010 and was extended in 2012 for a further three-year cycle when additional funding was secured to engage four new residents in the program. A third round of the program commenced in 2015 with the addition of two major dairy practices in the Western District of Victoria and Smithton, Tasmania.

“I’ve picked up a lot of extra skills that I would not necessarily learn during day-to-day vet practice..." - Dr Andy Hancock.
The basic objective of the program is to increase dairy vet capacity in rural areas specifically ensuring an ongoing supply of skilled dairy veterinarians in local practice and increasing on-farm research in areas of importance to local dairying communities and the wider dairy industry.

Dairy residents are embedded for three years in one of six rural veterinary practices in Maffra, Warrnambool, Timboon, Allansford, Rochester and Smithton in Tasmania. During this time the residents complete a Master of Veterinary Studies (by course work) and a Master of Veterinary Science (by research). They achieve the combined degree by conducting an on-farm research project, acquiring knowledge and skills through advanced clinical training, develop expertise in whole-farm production programs and teach and mentor veterinary students from the Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences Faculty.

The four dairy resident vets enrolled in the second round of the project are now entering the final year of the three-year program and are already having positive impacts on farms, farmers, vet clinics, the next generation of vets, rural communities, the industry and the University.

Dr Kelly Plozza is a dairy resident at the Warrnambool Veterinary Clinic. She is conducting clinical trials in improving the reproductive performance of cows who do not display visible fertility cycles, known as non-cycling cows.
Dr Plozza says on-farm research has helped her build a better relationship with local farmers.

“That’s something you don’t have time for in a regular vet practice, you tend to be too busy running between jobs. It’s really nice to be able to revisit the farmers with your latest results and they are really excited about the scientific investigations. They love hearing about the research outcomes as much as we do because it opens up ideas for proactive intervention measures.”

Dr Plozza has been comparing current approaches for managing non-cycling cows, and the results are revealing useful information and more options for farmers.

At Timboon, Dr Andy Hancock, is undertaking his residency with The Vet Group. He is studying how farmers manage bulls up to and during the breeding period and investigating if there is a correlation between bull management and fertility. As part of his research, Dr Hancock has worked with 32 herds and examined 256 bulls prior to, and after, mating over 12 months.

“As a vet you usually go out to farms to see a sick or problem animal but with this project I am usually seeing healthy animals, so the farmers are happy to see me,” he says. Dr Hancock hopes his work will help refine the guidelines for fertility risk assessment in bulls, and says the residency has also helped him become a better vet.

“I’ve picked up a lot of extra skills that I would not necessarily learn during day-to-day vet practice, things like project management, time management and building rapport with clients, and of course technical research skills like conducting literature reviews and scientific report writing. The research gives your work a goal whilst ensuring you develop useful technical expertise.”

“If you can contribute something to the knowledge base, that’s great in itself, but if your results improve farming practices that is a real bonus and on top of that we will be sharing it with fellow vets and trainee vets.”

Maffra based Dr Stephanie Bullen earned the title of 2013 Rural Ambassador, an award that recognises outstanding individuals dedicated to making contributions to the local community. Her research focuses on studying roundworm drench resistance on dairy farms in the Macalister irrigation district.

Preliminary results from Dr Bullen’s study indicate that there are very high levels of resistance on dairy farms and more research into strategies specific to the dairy industry needs to be undertaken. She says “the ultimate goal is to be able to achieve a balance between reducing the impact of parasites on farm profitability, while ensuring long term sustainability of current and future anthelmintics.”

Resident Dr Ashley Phipps who is based at the Rochester Veterinary clinic was awarded a Greenham’s Dairy Scholarship, to help finance his research studies. Dr Phipps is investigating colostrum volume and management practices and its effect on the quality of the harvested colostrum.
He says he applied for the residency because he always had a strong interest in calves and calf health.

“This was a real interest area of mine and I thought there were gaps in our knowledge. Calves are the future of a herd, so I think we need to give more thought to how they are raised.”
Program leader, Associate Professor Michael Pyman has been delighted with the development of the residents over the three years they have been engaged in the course. “From their growth in skills, to their acquisition of research expertise, the findings they’re producing for the benefit of local industry and their ability to extend those findings to the general dairy community. It is amazing.”

For further information please contact A/Prof Michael Pyman – m.pyman@unimelb.edu.au

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