Technical and professional diversity - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Technical and professional diversity

Richard Gard reports on the progress within the RAFT Solutions initiative, which seeks to capitalise on the role veterinary surgeons can play in influencing sectors of the farming industry.

WE BELIEVE THAT THE
VETERINARY PROFESSION
HAS A TREMENDOUS DEPTH
of technical and professional diversity
that can play a major role in the way we
shape and develop food production in
the UK.”

So says Jonathan Statham in
his written introduction to RAFT
Solutions Ltd. Jonathan is a partner
with the Bishopton Veterinary Group
in North
Yorkshire and
chief executive
of RAFT.
The initiative
commenced in
2010 defining
the involvement
as “Research,
Advanced
breeding, Food
futures and Training”.

In 2014, Synergy Farm Health in
Dorset became incorporated as a
shareholding practice and RAFT now
has the expertise of 48 veterinary
surgeons plus technical support staff.
The livestock base of the company
covers thousands of dairy and beef
cattle in the south-west and north-
east, as well as a significant proportion
of the pig industry. The company is supported by SQPs, VetTechs,
embryologists, project managers,
a marketing team and in-house
laboratory facilities.

RAFT vets currently hold or have
held influential positions within
the veterinary industry including
roles as presidents of the British
Cattle Veterinary Association,
Sheep Veterinary Association and
Pig Veterinary Society, membership
of GB Cattle Health and Welfare
Group and roles working alongside
the Food Standards Agency and as
expert veterinary representative on
the Veterinary Residues Committee of
the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
RAFT is also the research lead for the
XLVets network of 52 UK veterinary
practices and thus can access a wide
and varied pool of commercial farms
for sampling, research study and
training.

Currently the main areas for
research, consultancy and training
are reproduction and genetics,
lameness and welfare, sustainable
food, antimicrobial resistance and
One Health, mastitis and milk quality,
biotechnology and diagnostics.

The initiative is described as
“specialising in the muddy boots end
of research, consultancy and training”
and recognising this, partnerships have
been developed with leading research
institutes and universities. These
include the Food and Environment Research Agency and the universities
of Nottingham, Edinburgh, Bristol and
the Royal Veterinary College.

RAFT also delivers trials for
marketing and registration studies
to Good Clinical Practice standards
and has over 20 Memoranda of
Understanding with a variety of
industry companies and research
institutions from levy bodies
to retailers, processors and pharmaceutical
companies.
RAFT was
also part of
the projects
operations
team for the
development
of the Centre
for Innovation
and Excellence in Livestock and is a founder member.
Having identified the formal structure, what exactly is RAFT all
about?

It is evident that UK livestock
farming is facing major challenges. For
years, money and technical expertise
have been directed at many research
and development projects with
innovative products and management
systems resulting.

Commercial interests have promoted
and supported new ways, where it is
in their interests to do so. The take-
up has been variable and some of the findings have been directed at farmers
and some at the vets and some at both.

At the recent lameness academy
meeting it was indicated that only
about 20% of dairy herds are applying
recognised beneficial research.

It has always been assumed that
veterinary surgeons provide a link
between farmers, academia and
industry and they do, but RAFT has
identified the need to make this a
professional target.

The aims go way beyond the
veterinary surgeon as an animal
technician. Whether a client is
requesting improved services or not,
the identification of the technical
and the practical issues, initially with
animal health, welfare and productivity,
provide a depth of professional and
technical diversity. There is a veterinary
and support staff feel-good factor
about RAFT.

Many technical improvements on
farm take years of attention before the
benefits are realised and then economic
realities alter and the gain is no longer
easy to be recognised. But the farmer
of today has to produce livestock
according to the demands of the
purchaser, processor and retailer, with
those demands increasing with time.

It is not surprising that ethics is
placed high on the RAFT platform.

In formal mode,
Jonathan states it is
important to “ensure
we not only meet the
food needs of the
nation but that we
do so to the highest
possible standards
and with the utmost
attention to ethics
and efficiency”.

This is where the
depth of technical
and professional
diversity also comes into play, as RAFT
vets get involved with developing the
demands of purchasers: professional
veterinary input, expanding from
muddy boots to boardroom adviser, to
committee member.

Additionally, if the farmer is
con dent that his production
standards are practically-based and
going to prove beneficial in the long
and short term, then uptake of new
developments is more likely.

Extensive training

XLVets has successfully carried out
extensive training for farmers within
the FarmSkills initiative. Practical skills,
with on-farm workshops, have rmed
up the basic hands-on awareness for
farm staff and others.

At this time of year training
workshops for lambing, cattle lameness
and hoof trimming, DIY AI, practical
calving and the safe use of veterinary
medicines are taking place. EquineSkills
for horse carers and VetSkills for
practice staff, involving clinical and
non-clinical CPD, are also available.

This activity over the past seven
years has provided the con dence
and expertise to expand and move
training forward to include awareness
of the research conclusions from
development projects. Sophie Troup
has been involved with the XLVets
initiative and she is the managing
director of RAFT.

The findings from ongoing
consultancies, including clinical trials
with bovine and porcine vaccines,
green energy pig buildings, animal welfare sensors
and the results
from clinical
data surveillance,
are likely to be
transferred into
training workshops.

A semen referral
evaluation service
(SemenRate) has
developed from an
18-month research
project and this
adds to the existing
facilities supporting modern cattle breeding. Fully
licensed embryo and storage facilities
are available on-site, at Ripon and
Evershot, with IVF and ovum pick-up
at a residential facility.

There is considerable interest in
food sustainability and food futures.
Advisory notes to government from
review bodies include such phrases
as “the UK can no longer afford to
take its food supply for granted; there
is a need to recognise the political
and social importance of affordable
food; increased investment in public
agriculture and food research will be
needed; support required for private-
public partnership frameworks to
deliver technology transfer; the Food
and Agricultural Organisation (United
Nations) acknowledges that animal
diseases are advancing globally as a
result of the changing climate”.

There is a warning that if food prices
rise there will be greater acceptance
of intensive production methods
and less priority given to animal
welfare, environmental or ethical
considerations.

RAFT has been set up as an efficient
business and goes beyond veterinary
practice diversification. Some of the
vets involved are engaged 50% of the
time with RAFT projects and there is a dedicated office team involved in the
bidding for, delivery and reporting of
projects.

For veterinary practices to involve
themselves in the on-farm and national
issues is technical and professional
diversity indeed and appears very
worthwhile.

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