"So how much should a dairy practitioner be clearing these days?" I was a little stunned by the directness of the question,
especially considering that we were in a social setting.
"Well, that depends on the goals of the doctor," I replied.
"C'mon, don't dodge the question. What is a reasonable net income for today's bovine practitioner?"
Seeing I would not escape easily, I decided to just jump in, "I don't think any experienced veterinarian should settle
for less than $100,000, and many make far more than that."
My questioner nodded in agreement, and we moved onto another topic. Actually, if memory serves me right, I used that same
number several years ago, so I'm probably falling behind in my thinking.
With that discussion in mind, I was very interested in the lead-off article of The Bovine Practitioner that was in my mailbox the next day. Dr. John Fetrow and others gave assessments of the future for dairy veterinarians. In
the article, they quoted a 2001 American Veterinary Medical Association study, which reported that the average large animal
veterinarian netted around $75,000 a year after deducting a reasonable return on equity for practice owners. Hmmm ... that
means the average doctor earns roughly three quarters of what I believe is a minimum. Am I that far out of line?
A matter of opinion
I gave the correct answer with my first response to my questioner above. The minimum acceptable income is what meets the goals
of the individual. We all differ in our desire for material possessions and financial security. If a doctor is satisfied with
his income at any level, then that is the right income for that person.
In my consulting work, most of my clients are netting more than $100,000 a year per doctor, and all of them want more. They
want to know how to do better. I have a fairly simple formula that will work in most situations. It consists of a repeating
cycle of improving your skills, marketing those skills, experiencing an increased demand, raising your fees and returning
to improving your skills.
This formula has worked well for others and me. See Table 1.
Set yourself apart
Here is how it works. Suppose you are comfortable with your individual animal skills, including sick cow, palpations and surgery.
You are charging $75 per hour. You work about 50 hours a week with a relatively stable client base, but you know a neighboring
practice is cheaper. You are afraid that if you raise your fees, then some clients will switch.
The first step is to acquire a new skill that will be valuable to some, if not all of your clients. One possibility that worked
very well for me is to really learn how to interpret Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) records. Contact a regional
center that processes most of the herds in your area. Ask to come in for some training. Get any printed material they have.
Know how every number on the report is generated and how it impacts herd performance. Learn how to gain electronic access
and to generate custom reports. Devise a method to chart changes over time.
Once you have mastered this process, offer to spend time with your clients who use DHIA to review and help interpret their
reports. This is the marketing phase. Charge for this service. Some of your clients will be happy to pay you, and others will
not. Let them decide.
If my experience holds true, you will add 30 minutes to 60 minutes of billable time per day by just reviewing records. In
addition, records review will lead to other work as you uncover problems. Poor performance of fresh cows can lead to an investigation
of transition cow management. High cell counts on the first test of first-lactation animals can get you involved with udder
infusion of springing heifers. Soon enough, you will find yourself busier. This is stage three. When you get too busy, it
is time for stage four, raising fees.