Dr. Bob Coley treats a cow at Gilbert's Dairy in Morristown
The AVMA estimates there are 28 counties in east Tennessee that have no feed animal veterinarians
A record number of applicants applied for the 85 available seats in the University of Tennessee's Veterinary program in 2009. Of those who will graduate, fewer are planning to specialize in the care of large animals than in previous years.
It's a trend that concerns Sam Gilbert, whose family operates Gilbert's Dairy in Morristown. Currently they have well over 100 cows, covering a range of ages.
"Anywhere from a baby calf to probably a 10 or 12 year old cow," Gilbert said.
Two of those cows currently have digestive issues, prompting a visit from Dr. Bob Coley, a feed animal veterinarian. Based out of Jefferson County, Coley's Veterinary Services treat animals in eight other counties.
"We do 95% cattle work, dairy and beef, we also do some small ruminants sheep and goats," Coley said.
His practice provides 24 hour emergency services, seven days a week.
"Its hard work, it's long hours," Coley said.
Hard work and long hours that fewer young people are signing up for.
"Everybody's getting older, we are too. You got to have somebody to replace them someday," Gilbert said.
"There are less veterinarians that are doing food animals now, so that is a concern," Coley said.
According to the American Veterinarian Medical Association, there are only two food animal vets in Hamblen County. With 24,314 animals in the county, each would have to treat 12,157 animals. Jefferson County has two vets as well, with a total of 41,694 animals.
Officials with the UT vet school say part of the reason for the shortage is the amount of specialized training it takes to get into the field. But Coley sees some signs of life.
"Our profession and veterinary schools are making a conscious effort to encourage food animal practice among their students more than we have in the past," he said.
Its a conscious effort to provide for the animals that provide for the public.
"We all go to the grocery store to pick it up and we take it for granted. But we've got to have a healthy source on the farm to get our food supply from," Coley said.
The AVMA estimates there are 28 counties in east Tennessee that have no feed animal veterinarians.