Northern farmers feeling effects of veterinarian shortage

Northern veterinarians are stretched thin by a lack of resources in the region, which farmers in the region say has them waiting weeks to see veterinarians who specialize in large animals.

The owner of Rubber Boots Farm in Timmins, Marcel Forget, said he's felt the impact after only three years in operation.

"Either there isn't a specialist for that particular type of animal (in town) or you have to call from out of town and either bring the animal to them or wait for them to come to you," said Forget, who's spent weeks trying to get a diagnosis for one of his pigs.

He's hoping a veterinarian will be able to visit Timmins in a couple of weeks. Forget said he doesn't blame the vets themselves for the delays, but the overall shortage.

One vet in New Liskeard, Dr. Connie Dancho, said four specialized veterinarians travel up to two hours in any direction to treat farm animals. There are instances, she said, where they'll have to turn away farmers due to poor weather or a lack of available professionals.

Moreover, once her veterinarians lug their mobile healthcare equipment to northern farmers, especially in the winter, there's often a lack of warm facilities in which to perform births or surgeries.

"(There aren't) any handling facilities, so that they could actually catch these animals and help us restrain these animals, so that we can give them the proper attention," said Dancho.

"During emergency service, when we don't have another veterinarian to call upon, we ask them to consider bringing (animals) down here. The problem here is that we don't have an actual place that has good facilities that we could bring cattle or horses down to."

New funding program offers some relief

New joint funding from the federal and provincial governments is hoping to help with that, by spending up to $4 million on a 'Livestock Veterinary Innovation Initiative.'

Announced on Wednesday, the funding would be available to veterinary businesses to use on projects like virtual care and telemedicine, portable livestock handling equipment and additional training for veterinarians.

Dancho said that would certainly be useful for existing veterinarians in the region, but said what people especially need is more professionals around the north to treat farm animals.

Until more veterinarians can be attracted north, Forget said he and his fellow farmers try to support each other as much as possible.

"You need to either know how to deal with (your animals) or call your neighbour who's been doing this for 60 years and maybe they can help you or you have to wait," Forget said.'

"So, it's call your friends first and then call the vet."