Massey alumnus has taken his vet skills from Te Awamutu to the world

Te Awamatu veterinarian James Young’s experiences – from keeping 50,000 cattle healthy in China to performing a rectal exam on a four-tonne elephant in South Africa – is living proof that variety is a big part of a veterinary career, Massey University reports.

After graduating from Massey, Dr Young started working as a dairy vet in Te Awamutu but a year later – in 2007 – was asked if he wanted to go to China and help set up large scale dairy farms for Fonterra.

His clinic manager was supportive and within a week he had a visa and flew to China with a about 50kg of veterinary equipment, drugs, “basically prepared for anything!”

On his first day, he vaccinated a large herd in minus 20 degrees Celsius!

“My bones hurt, and the vaccine kept freezing between rows of cattle!”

The planned two-month stay turned into nearly a year and Dr Young became hooked on international work, returning to do other projects frequently in China.

In 2014, he was responsible for 50,000 cattle and 100 veterinarians and breeders as a chief veterinarian.

While a student, he had secured a place on an international vet student trip called SYMCO in South Africa.

With 90 vet students from around the world he toured several game parks

“…and got up close and personal with wild cheetah, elephant, lion and rhino, that had been darted for sampling, pregnancy testing and health checks. I convinced the wildlife vet manager to let me do a rectal exam on a heavily sedated four-tonne wild elephant.”

Dr Young completed a Master of Veterinary Public Health Management at the University of Sydney in 2009.

Three years later he was working with the Mekong Livestock Research team in a project manager role, working on research projects in Cambodia and Laos.

Those projects were designed to research ways of improving transboundary animal disease control, including Foot-and-mouth disease in the Mekong region.

The experience ignited Dr Young’s further interest in learning more about how livestock disease control is connected to wider food insecurity and poverty issues in the region. He started the PhD in early 2013 and completed it part-time over four and a half years, while employed full-time working as project manager.

His PhD focused on how to improve disease control and biosecurity in smallholder farms and their wider communities in Cambodia.

Alongside this work, since 2013 he has been an Animal Health Economics consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) at the Regional Asia and Pacific office based out of Bangkok.

Dr Young is also interested in technology to help farmers identify and improve biosecurity, so he started developing farmer extension content with the aim of getting it online and scaled out widely and rapidly.

In 2017, he released the first farmer course in New Zealand called ‘Close The Gate’ which is a online training tool designed in response to the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak that hit the headlines in July 2017. The course is designed to be completed on a smart phone, and even be undertaken on the back of a quad bike while a farmer waits for the cows to walk up the race.

Source: Massey University




Massey University Press publishes fourth edition of guide to diseases in sheep

A fourth edition of The Sheep: Health, Disease and Production, the go-to guide on sheep health, disease and production for veterinarians, farmers, farm advisors, and veterinary, agricultural and applied science students since it was first published in 1993, is about to be published by Massey University Press.

The university says this authoritative new edition incorporates the latest research and thinking about sheep health, disease and production and includes in-depth information on exotic sheep diseases, such as Helicobacter abortion and Schmallenberg virus.

“With new technology, particularly genetics and molecular testing methods, there are new ways of investigating disease. This has allowed scientists to revisit some of the fundamental concepts (e.g. pathogenesis) of diseases, with some interesting findings,” says co-author Anne Ridler.

The book’s authors Neil Bruère, Dave West and Anne Ridler are recognised internationally in the field of sheep health and production, and have a lifetime of experience in the New Zealand sheep industry, as well as wide exposure to sheep farmers working with practical production and flock health issues.

The Sheep has been extensively revised and fully redesigned to incorporate a wider range of illustrations and colour photographs. There is also a more comprehensive use of tables.

The book is published this month and can be purchased online.

NZ farmers are using Betty’s artificial intelligence to manage animal health

A New Zealand-made mobile app is being used by local dairy farmers to replace veterinarians. Available on the App Store, the Betty app uses machine-learning algorithms to help dairy farmers diagnose sick cows in their herd.

Farmers using the app are presented with series of questions. The responses combined with regional farm and weather data produce a list of the most likely causes of disease in their animals.

Betty’s creator, Dr Jonathan Wong, said the idea was born out of frustration, while he was working as a dairy veterinarian.

“There are a lot of farmers out there who are reluctant to call a vet early, especially if a problem is perceived to be minor,” he said.

“With Betty we can help farmers decide whether or not their sick cow is an emergency and to take immediate action, or connect them with a local vet if need be.”

The app has been on trial with a core group of 31 farmers, who are providing on-farm feedback to improve its artificial intelligence engine.

“It’s all about experience,” Wong explains.

“While a typical dairy vet sees up to ten cases a day, the Betty AI engine has the ability to assess hundreds of sick cows every hour and is continuously refining her algorithm with each one.”

Samuel Woods, a dairy farmer trialling the app, runs a 600-cow herd in Canterbury.

“The reality is there are many inexperienced workers entering the dairy industry,” he says.

“With millions of dollars worth of livestock to manage, you need to give them all the tools to find sick cows early.”

The Betty app is currently available on the New Zealand Apple App Store.

The long-term plan, says Wong, is to improve the Betty AI engine before releasing it overseas.

“And then, maybe, we’ll release an app for cat owners too!”

The Betty app can be found HERE.

British report presses for reduced use of antibiotics in agriculture

Reducing antibiotic use in agriculture is among the key strategies for tackling the growing threat of drug resistance, according to a report into antimicrobial resistance.

An account of the report’s findings on the agricultural use of antibiotics has been posted on

“The quantity of antibiotics used in livestock is vast,” said the report, entitled Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations – The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

“In the US, for example, of the antibiotics defined as medically important for humans by the US Food and Drug Administration, over 70 percent (by weight) are sold for use in animals,” it said.

The authors said there were circumstances where antibiotics were required in agriculture and aquaculture to maintain animal welfare and food security.

“However, much of their global use is not for treating sick animals, but rather to prevent infections or simply to promote growth.

“Many countries are also likely to use more antibiotics in agriculture than in humans but they do not even hold or publish the information.

“The majority of scientists see this as a threat to human health, given that wide-scale use of antibiotics encourages the development of resistance, which can spread to affect humans and animals alike.”

The panel, whose report was commissioned by the British Government and the Wellcome Trust, proposed three steps to improve antibiotic use in animals.

First, they call for a 10-year target to reduce unnecessary use of the drugs in agriculture.

Second, certain types of highly critical antibiotics should be restricted.

“Too many antibiotics that are now last-line drugs for humans are being used in agriculture; action should be taken on this urgently.”

Third, there must be greater transparency among food producers on the antibiotics used to raise meat. This would enable consumers to make more informed purchase decisions.

Beyond agriculture, the panel proposed a raft of measures, including a massive public awareness campaign to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance; improved hygiene to prevent the spread of infection; improved global surveillance of drug resistance and antimicrobial consumption in humans and animals; better diagnostics to cut unnecessary antibiotic use; promoting the development and use of vaccines and other alternatives; providing greater recognition and reward for those working in the field of infectious diseases; and better incentives for investment in developing new drugs or improving existing ones.

The full report can be read here.

Veterinarians set antibiotic goal for animals

New Zealand Inc will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness by 2030, says New Zealand Veterinary Association President Dr Steve Merchant.

Around 70 per cent of human infectious diseases, including meningitis, anthrax and salmonellosis (food poisoning) have come from animals.

Because levels of resistance to antibiotics are sharply increasing worldwide, Dr Merchant said, “we want animals and, by extension, humans to enter the ‘post-antibiotic’ era as safely as possible.”

This was a significant undertaking, requiring considerable teamwork and commitment from the veterinary profession, working with the medical, scientific, government and relevant primary industry sectors.

“Given the wide acceptance that the future for antibiotics is limited, and the close links between animals, humans and the environment we share, achieving this goal is essential,” Dr Merchant said.

“New Zealand is well suited to this challenge; given our size, proximity of the various specialities and relevant industry sectors, and already low use of antibiotics.”

Examples include:

* Zero use of antibiotics in aquaculture

* New Zealand is the world’s third lowest user of antibiotics on animals

* Increasing focus on animal ‘wellness’

* New Zealand’s grass-based farm management systems.

“These represent a sound platform, and veterinarians’ role at the intersection of animal life, human life and the environment makes ours a logical profession to be taking a lead,” Dr Merchant said.

“Achieving this goal will require a concerted international collaborative effort involving attitudinal and behavioural change across government, research, human health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and a range of associated industries – as well as the public.”

Veterinarians will use and advocate for careful antibacterial management and monitoring based on responsible use of existing antibiotics, as they work with their industry partners to test and develop the necessary alternatives.

Metritis vaccine is created to protect dairy cows from common cattle disease

Cornell University scientists have developed the first vaccines that can prevent metritis, one of the most common cattle diseases. The infection not only harms animals and farmers’ profits, but also drives more systemic antibiotic use on dairy farms than any other disease.

The new vaccines prevent metritis infection of the uterus from taking hold and reduce symptoms when it does.

Metritis develops after a cow gives birth, when bacteria settle in the uterus. Infected cows suffer fever, pain, inflammation, lack of appetite, depression and reduced reproductive abilities.

The disease affects as many as 25 percent of the roughly 9 million dairy cows in the United States, costing nearly US$400 per case in lost productivity and treatment costs.

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30 new vets join rural bonding scheme

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has welcomed 30 new vets onto the 2013 intake of the Rural Veterinary Bonding Scheme.

“The scheme is now in its fifth year and is making real headway in tackling the rural vet shortage,” Guy said in a media statement (here).

“Since the start of the scheme in February 2009, 136 new vets have joined and the retention rate is an outstanding 96%.

“The scheme is a solid incentive, helping to make rural practices more attractive to junior vets who might otherwise end up in city clinics or heading overseas.

“Livestock farming is the engine room of New Zealand’s economy. We export around $30 billion in primary sector exports a year and we want to double that by 2025. That’s not going to happen without practically skilled, dedicated rural vets who provide animal health advice.

“These vets are now practicing in rural areas, and being supported and mentored by senior vets in their practices.”

The scheme is open to newly qualified veterinarians from Massey University who have secured jobs in rural practices working with farm animals.At the end of their third year of employment they are entitled to a $33,000 payment, and additional payments of $11,000 at the end of their fourth and fifth years.