Field Surgery

Food animal ambulatory practice

Food animal veterinary practice is generally ambulatory – the vet travels to the farm with supplies. Most work is done on the farm. This makes herd/flock management more doable and also decreases the biosecurity risk associated with bringing animals to a clinic that houses animals from other farms. For the same reason, veterinarians need to be highly aware of their own potential to be or bring fomites (agents of disease transmission).

Food animal practice varies widely from the backyard pets (usually goats) to large dairy farms.  Facilities also vary, even among similar types of barns (eg dairy barns come in may different styles). The farm may be the primary source of income, a supplemental income, a tax write off, or a hobby.

Much of the veterinary care on a farm is performed by the farm managers/producers or their staff.  Vaccinations, castrations, other youngstock processing (disbudding, dehorning, etc) and minor surgeries are often performed by farm personnel. Palpation and breeding may be performed by lay specialists. Veterinarians are used for select procedures, such as disease diagnosis, regulatory testing, and surgery. Pig and poultry medicine is often focused more on necropsy than on surgery. Owners of goats and camelids are less likely to do their own procedures and will be more reliant on their veterinarian.

Handling facilities on beef farms are often minimal (a squeeze chute) with animals being unused to handling unless they are show animals. Dairy cattle are typically more used to human contact and facilities are typically more veterinarian friendly.

Dairy producers are typically comfortable handling their animals; beef producers are variably so and it depends on the type of farm. Small ruminant and camelid owners vary significantly in their interest and ability to manage animal care. Many are well versed and are happy to educate their veterinarian as needed.


Small ruminants can transported to a veterinary clinic in vans or other vehicles, making it relatively easy for owners to bring them to the veterinarian. This tends to be cheaper than having a veterinarian travel to the farm.  Travel time often results in a loss of income for whomever is doing the driving (owner, veterinarian). If the veterinarian can schedule multiple visits in the same direction, this can minimize losses and make farm visits more efficient. Obviously this isn’t doable with emergency cases.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.