The problem mostly affects cows, but several farmers who spoke to The Times of Malta said pigs, sheep, goats and chickens also fall victim to shortages because veterinarians seem to prefer working with small pets in clinics.
They say it has become a nightmare, especially when the cows give birth in the late evening or during the night. Sometimes cattle need to be delivered by caesarean section, in other cases, they need stitches after delivery.
“It is a horrible feeling to have to watch your animals suffer in dire need of medical care while you are helpless and unable to find a vet. In extreme cases, the only option for some farmers is to try to meet the animal’s medical needs themselves, in the ways they know how,” he said. A farmer.
It is illegal for any medically unqualified individual to perform medical procedures on animals, but trying times call for desperate measures.
In some extreme situations, either this is or the animal dies.
Malcolm Borg, who heads the MCAST Agricultural Center, said some veterinarians start out or spend time working with farm animals, but generally move to open their own clinics because income from farms is limited and precarious.
“The problem has been around for so long that some farmers have just agreed that things are going well and think there is little hope of a solution,” he said.
One of the recommendations that can help alleviate the problem is to provide paramedics to animals
Large farm animals share many diseases with humans. Sometimes they need medication to treat stomach and intestinal problems, and in rare cases, they need surgery.
However, farmers do not blame veterinarians for not taking care of their animals. They admit that caring for the medical needs of large animals is very different from caring for small pets, and a vet with a cat and dog clinic may not necessarily be equipped to leave the clinic and head to the farm because the tools, medications, and dosages are vastly different.
Furthermore, vets may be reluctant to do the job because it is more stressful and less profitable, and a good number of them have ethical issues with it as well.
“You have to understand that for most of them their desire to become vets stems from their childhood love for animals,” explained Alison Pesina, Commissioner for Animal Welfare.
“They would probably be uncomfortable working in a slaughterhouse or caring for animals they know are raised for milk and meat.”
Bezaina said the farmers are right to be concerned and there is something that needs to be done to help them, adding that despite popular belief, she as a commissioner does not have the executive authority to enact or implement measures to solve the problem. Instead, its job is to monitor, study and recommend solutions to the authorities.
“One of the recommendations that can help alleviate the problem is to introduce paramedics to the animals, so to speak,” she said.
“In human medicine, paramedics are highly qualified, technically trained individuals who can perform specific procedures, even though they are not medical doctors. We can invest in the training of animal ‘paramedics.’”
“For example, if farmers have difficulty finding vets when their cows give birth, we can invest in training people to become cow attendants. They will be highly skilled in carrying out specific procedures related to pregnancy and childbirth.”
The head of the Malta Veterinarians Union, Andrew Agius, said it was unreasonable to try to persuade veterinarians practicing in clinics and the growing business to leave everything behind and look after farm animals.
Instead, we need to encourage new vets to consider this type of work through programs and incentives.
“Most veterinarians do not specialize in large animals and most of those choose to work with horses because it is a more profitable industry,” he said.
But if we had to invest in a robust system that performs routine health and safety checks on farms, this could become a feasible business.
“The country will only need a handful of full-time veterinarians who specialize in farm animals and each one will be responsible for looking after the farms in a particular area of the islands.”
Agios said the association is ready to sit down with farmers’ cooperatives and the Animal Welfare Commissioner to find a way forward.
Questions sent to Agriculture Minister Anton Rivalo and Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights Alicia Bujiga Said remained unanswered.
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