Livestock Veterinarian: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a livestock veterinarian. Learn about education and licensure requirements, job duties and employment projections to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Livestock Veterinarian?

Livestock veterinarians specialize in the care of farm animals, such as cows and horses, and could see more favorable employment prospects than their counterparts in companion animal care. Like any veterinarian, livestock vets will examine animals, treat wounds, prevent disease through vaccinations, prescribe medication and advise farmers on any necessary medical or health related care. They are also trained to use different kinds of medical equipment and operate on animals if needed. Livestock veterinarians need to be prepared to euthanize an animal if required. Take a look at the chart below to discover what's required for a career in this field:

Degree Required Doctorate in veterinary medicine
Key Responsibilities Diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, administer vaccinations, perform surgical procedures
Licensure State licensure required in most instances
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all veterinarians)*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490 (for all veterinarians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Defining Aspects of a Livestock Veterinarian's Work?

As a livestock veterinarian, you will examine, diagnose and treat individual livestock animals or herds, such as cattle, sheep and swine. If you treat animals used for food, you will enforce food safety standards, check for transmissible diseases and quarantine animals as necessary. Other duties you may perform include administering vaccinations and medications, treating injuries and ordering diagnostic tests. You may also perform surgery, deliver babies, trim hooves and dehorn livestock. You may offer owners advice regarding breeding, housing, proper nutrition and behavior problems. Your job will typically involve traveling to farms and ranches to treat patients.

What Kind of Job Outlook Can I Expect?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of all veterinarians, including livestock veterinarians, was expected to increase 9% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Public health and food animal safety concerns were expected to contribute to the demand for veterinarians. The increasing need for pet care could also drive job growth.

Because livestock veterinarians often work in undesirable areas, you could face less competition and better job prospects than you would for positions in companion animal care. Job opportunities with the federal government should be best if you receive training in public health, food safety and animal welfare.

What Education Requirements Will I Need to Complete?

To gain admission to a veterinary medicine program, you must first complete undergraduate prerequisite courses, which may include inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, physics, nutrition, microbiology, genetics, social science, English and mathematics. Many schools also require that you gain experience working with animals. Since admission to veterinary school is highly competitive, it is recommended that you earn a bachelor's degree as well. You will also need to take an admissions exam, which, depending on the school to which you apply, could be the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

While enrolled in a veterinary medicine program, you will take courses in anatomy, physiology, pathology, immunology, microbiology, pharmacology, nutrition and ethics during your first two years. During your final two years, you will receive clinical training in surgery, anesthesia, dermatology, ophthalmology, radiology, critical care and euthanasia. You will be exposed to different types of veterinary medicine, such as companion animal, food animal, wildlife and equine medicine. Some programs allow you to concurrently conduct research and prepare a thesis. Upon completion of your program, you will earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) or Veterinaria Medicina Doctoris (V.M.D.) degree.

Will I Need a License?

You must generally earn a license before you can practice veterinary medicine in the United States. However, some government employers may not require a license. Although licensure requirements vary by state, they usually include graduating from an approved veterinary medicine program and passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Depending on your state, you may be required to take additional examinations, such as a state jurisprudence exam or a clinical competency exam.

Is Advanced Training Available?

Although you may begin working after earning your license, you might want to consider completing an internship. By completing a 1-year internship, you can receive specialized training in livestock medicine and will be given opportunities to conduct research. According to the BLS, veterinarians who opt to complete internships often obtain better paying jobs later on.

If you would like to further build upon your credentials after completing an internship, you may want to complete a 3-year residency in food animal medicine or dairy production medicine. During your residency, you will gain teaching experience, conduct research, attend seminars and manage patients. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) offers board certification in Beef Cattle Practice, Dairy Practice, Food Animal Practice and Swine Health Management. You should have at least six years of experience before you can sit for a certifying examination (www.abvp.com). You must periodically recertify by passing a specialty examination or completing continuing education credits.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other related careers that require a doctoral or professional degree include medical scientists, physicians and surgeons. Medical scientists work to improve various aspects of human health by conducting different kinds of research and clinical trials. Physicians perform similar tasks to a veterinarian, but they treat human patients. They will examine patients to diagnose and treat various kinds of illnesses and injuries. Surgeons treat injuries or illnesses through a variety of surgeries, such as those to remove tumors or mend broken bones.

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