Chances are most people have been to a ranch at least once in their life, but not everyone knows what to call the specialists who assist ranchers and horse owners with animal medical care. 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. They work on their own or assist a veterinarian in their duties.
A large animal 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 and equine vet techs will often work directly with a veterinarian. They may help restrain an animal, insert a catheter, float (file) horse teeth, 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, or even help with dehorning. Large animal vet techs could also be involved with processes such as cleaning hooves or wrapping knees, legs, and tails to accelerate healing.
These types of vet techs might be employed on a large ranch or at a breeding center, a research institute, or a zoo. They may find work at a university as part of an agricultural department or 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. 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 veterinary clinic is based in the middle of Michigan farm country and his 18,000 animal clientele include sheep, cows, and pigs, among others. Past episodes, including “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 (BLS 2019) states that job opportunities for vet techs will swell 19 percent nationwide between 2018 and 2028, adding 21,100 fresh openings. This is nearly four times the expected average growth among all occupations during the same period (5 percent).
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.
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 $33,400, as of May 2018. The highest 10 percent earned up to $49,350 (or more) and the lowest 10 percent earned $22,880 or less. The BLS does not break down salary by specific vet tech type, but the website ZipRecruiter (2019) notes that the average salary for large animal vet techs was $34,479 as of December 2019. This is roughly on par with the BLS (2019) average salary for all vet techs at $34,710.
Please note that salaries vary widely by geographic region, degree attained, place of employment, experience, and certification status.
Equine Vet Tech Certification
Recent graduates may be able to increase their hiring and earning potential by obtaining 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 (VTNE) through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). To qualify to sit for the VTNE, candidates must check their specific state requirements.
Upon passing, their results are sent to a state credentialing board through which a student can apply for the local license or certification that is necessary to become registered, certified, or licensed veterinary technicians (RVTs, CVTs, LVTs), depending on their state of residence. Equine vet techs can also seek membership in the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians (AAEVT), which boasts more than 1,000 people nationwide. The organization offers continuing education resources, wet labs, seminars, professional advocacy, and an annual conference.
Job Requirements for Large Animal and Equine Vet Techs
Large animal vet techs and equine vet techs should be prepared to be on call and work unusual hours when necessary; 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.
The BLS (2019) 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 and upset owners. They also need to be detail-oriented, have strong communication skills, and possess manual dexterity—the latter which is helpful when needing to restrain animals, give animals shots, 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 accredited vet tech programs to choose from, including some with an emphasis on equine vet tech training. For example, Otterbein University of Westerville, OH provides a four-year bachelor’s degree in equine veterinary technology.
Regardless of the program selected, all aspiring vet techs are encouraged to verify that their school has received accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA’s list of accredited vet tech schools shows that programs are offered in every region (as of 2019) except Alaska and Washington DC. There are also ten accredited distance-based vet tech programs.