Chances are most people have been to a ranch at least once in their life, but not everyone knows what the specialists who assist ranchers and horse owners with animal medical care are called. Often, these people are known as large animal vet techs or equine vet techs, and they are trained to provide care to ranch animals, such as goats, dairy cows and horses, on their own or by assisting a doctor of veterinary medicine, known as a veterinarian, in their duties.
A large animal vet tech or equine vet tech may find the job exciting. They may be less restricted to working in an ‘office’ setting, and more able to provide care on a site like a farm or ranch. Of course, this may mean that a large animal vet tech or equine vet tech needs to be well prepared to respond to urgent calls and be calmly able to handle any situation, including helping with livestock birth.
Large animal vet techs and equine vet techs will often work directly with a veterinarian. They may help restrain an animal, insert a catheter, or assist in surgery. They could dress wounds, help with post-surgical care or even give shots or injections. They could help assess a horse for lameness, provide mass injections to an animal herd (the average size of a U.S. dairy herd is 135 cows, for example) or even help with dehorning. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that large animal vet techs could also be involved with processes such as cleaning hooves or wrapping knees, legs, and even tails to accelerate healing.
These types of vet techs might be employed on a large ranch, at a breeding center, a research institute or even a zoo. They may find work at a university as part of an agricultural department of they could work in a clinic where the services are geared toward large animals or horses – however, there’s no guarantee, even in a clinical setting, that these vet techs will be able to stay in the office, simply because the animal size may require the vet tech to go where the animal is. Indeed, those wanting to learn more about what it’s like to work with large animals may want to check out “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” a National Geographic Channel show featuring Dr. Jan Pol. His veterinarian clinic is based in the middle of Michigan farm country and his 18,000 animal clientele include sheep, cows, and pet pigs, among others. Past episodes, including “How Now Downed Cow?” “Up Sheep’s Creek” and “Got Your Goat,” could be an eye-opening inspiration to those considering a large animal vet tech career.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013 states that the job growth for veterinary technicians should grow 52 percent nationwide by the year 2020. This data is not specifically broken out for different types of vet tech specialists, such as large animal vet techs and equine vet techs. However, the data does show that overall job growth in the vet tech field is expected to increase for a number of reasons, including a growing pet population and advancements made in veterinary medicine. As well, it is also expected that the number of vet tech positions available simply will outpace the number of new graduates from vet tech colleges.
Large Animal & Equine Vet Tech Salary Data
The median annual veterinary technician salary can vary for large animal and equine vet techs depending on where they work and their experience. However, the BLS indicates median nationwide pay for vet techs overall was $30,290, as of as of May 2012. The highest 10 percent earned up to $44,030 and the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $21,030. The BLS does not break down salary by specific vet tech type, but the website SimplyHired notes that the average salary for large animal vet techs was $33,000 as of September 2013. Similarly, SimplyHired put the average salary for equine vet techs at $35,000 as of September 2013.
Equine Vet Tech Certification
Recent graduates may be able to increase their hiring and earning potential by obtaining needed certification. Generally, states have specific licensing requirements that need to be met to be able to work in that state. However, when most vet techs graduate from an accredited program, they can apply to take the Veterinarian Technician National Examination. Upon passing, their results are sent to a state credentialing board through which a student can apply for the license or certification that is necessary. Equine vet techs can also seek additional certification through the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians.
Large animal vet techs and equine vet techs should be prepared to be on call and work unusual hours if necessitated; this could mean evenings and weekends. As well, they should be in good physical strength as some of their work may involve restraining large-sized animals. Consider that the weight of a horse can average between 880 to 2,200 pounds; and the average weight of a dairy cow is 1,400 pounds, according to Purdue University.
The BLS also notes that those considering a career as a vet tech should possess qualities such as compassion, which can be helpful when working with sick animals or possibly an upset owners. They also need to be detail-oriented, have strong communication skills, and possess manual dexterity, the latter which could be helpful when needing to restrain animals, give animals shots or or assist with surgery.
Education & Experience
Vet techs typically need at least two years of training to be able to seek employment. As the BLS notes, this can be done by working toward an associate degree in veterinarian technology, a degree that typically takes two years to complete. Students may be able to find a wide range of vet tech programs to choose from, for, as of 2011, 191 vet tech programs were accredited through the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA. The bulk of these programs offered a two-year degree while 21 provided a bachelor’s degree. Of note, nine had programs available through distance learning.
The AVMA’s list of accredited vet tech schools shows that programs are offered in every state except, as of 2013, Arkansas and Montana. Interested students can look at this list by state and find website information linking them to the specific program. Some students may find programs specifically set up train students to be large animal vet techs or equine vet techs. These types of programs will be heavy in animal science, but should also provide a significant amount of hands-on training. For example, a large animal vet tech program might have students working with an animal herd, such as dairy cows, through a university’s agricultural department. Alternatively, some vet tech programs will have students complete an internship or externship as part of the graduation requirements.