All creatures great and small
"The guy who's maniacally busy in a one-person operation, leaving his phone turned on, is going to get very burned out.
In fact, I don't know how they do it," said Cork vet Gerry Crowley.
He is well aware of the difficulties facing vets, particularly those in large animal practices.
While recession has affected some equine and small animal practices, the expanding beef and dairy sector has meant that many large animal practices are thriving.
Younger vets will still find opportunities to work with farm animals, if they can put up with the long hours, never seeing their partners and 3am calvings.
The working conditions of vets has led to some in the profession suffering mental health issues, to such an extent that, in 2010, Veterinary Ireland launched a support programme for vets, particularly those in rural practices.
But many of those issues haven't gone away.
No different than farmers, vets face price vulnerability, recession and rising costs, and each year presents new challenges and different solutions to common problems.
"2009 was a bad year and nearly put a lot of people to the wall as milk prices were very low," said Gerry Crowley, who is a partner in a rural practice in Killeagh, Co Cork.
"A year like that can affect turnover because payments are slower, guys are doing less but you can't switch off the tap on your costs.
We don't have contracts with our clients so it's year to year, with the ups and downs that come with that."
Veterinary practices amalgamating and becoming bigger is a trend seen in Britain and New Zealand.
It certainly cuts down on fixed costs and provides more than just extra bodies when things get busy.
"We have a fairly good system here in that we can talk to each other and have a bit of support," said Gerry.
"With five vets in the practice, if one person is getting a hammering, we have back-up and someone else can take the call."
The Killeagh practice deals mostly with large animal work, the greater part being dairy farms.
"We really have a spectrum here, from hobby farmers to fellas with over 1,000 cattle.
Across a year I would say we have four to six months very busy, four to six months again with enough routine work to keep going and then for two odd months, things would be slack enough.
But that's when you can get organised for the busy season."
Gerry's practice, Glenbower Veterinary Group, is part of a group of vet practices under the XL Vets banner, a limited company with shared membership.
The aim is to reduce costs and wield more purchasing power by bringing practices together. "Costs are everything, even if you are running a corner shop.
But we also target on-farm systems and try to benefit the end users of our service who are the farmers," he said.
The XL group has run a number of campaigns on the benefits of investing in animal health. For Gerry, it's a win-win. "If farmers are more profitable and disease is managed, they are more likely to stay in business."
For large animal vet John Gilmore in Roscommon, maximising productivity on farms is everything.
One of the big trends he sees is farmers paying more attention to animal health.
"You need to be maximising things at this level and getting to the bottom of problems like calf diarrhoea or pneumonia," he said.
Discussion groups and technological developments have pushed this further into farmers' sights, and over the last two years the increase in sales of vaccines shows more focus on animal health.
"It's becoming a routine part of our work," said John, "scanning cows, testing bulls, BVD awareness, etc. It doesn't make sense to be throwing money at it after the event.
Anyone can have a disease outbreak, and you have to treat it, but minimising the chances of it happening the following year is the important thing."
With expansion being the buzz word for everyone in agriculture, John feels their work as vets is still very much the supporting wall of Ireland's farming picture.
"We're conscious of costs in our business as well as farmers, but everyone understands the benefit of limiting disease.
There's a push from Food Harvest 2020 to maximise output and increase stocking densities but you can't do that without putting pressure on farming systems and addressing disease."
Frank O'Sullivan, a partner in a seven-vet practice in Trim, Co Meath, feels that there has been a huge change in the work of large animal practices in recent years.
"I'm 52 now, but when I graduated there was much more emergency work -- 'obstetrical disasters' and racing around.
But I think that in the last five years there's been a seismic change in the work we do. We have a much bigger role now in preventing disease and that's an important change."
Frank feels that vets are now at the point of farm management rather than an emergency service, and farmers are investing more in looking at why calves are scouring before it happens rather than writing off the inevitable losses with a 'sure, what can you do?'
But preventative medicine is hardly new, so why the change in attitude from farmers? "Two reasons," said Frank, "one is financial, as farmers don't want the losses, but also farmers want things to go smoothly and have a herd that isn't burdened down by illness.
They don't want to be coming home from a football match and having to deal with sick animals and never really getting on top of the problem."
For Frank, the clinical work is still there, but ''it informs the preventative and makes sure the work you do on a farm is relevant to that farm; like fertility levels or calf health''.
For Gerry Crowley in Cork, his practice also needs to be better than the competition.
As new graduates emerge and some set up their own businesses, existing vets need to sell the quality of their experience, and that they're going to boost farm profit as part of the package.
"My farmers are more profitable if they can improve herd fertility and get someone who can provide best practice.
''There are many people out there offering scanning, etc, and it's a very crowded marketplace, so what we offer is expertise and a service of doing it in a structured way.
''We also do an in-house second opinion. So, if the jigsaw is not coming together for me, I can get the other vets to have a look at it."