Program Improves Veterinary Care in Ontario's Underserviced Communities
Livestock farmers, in particular those in rural and northern Ontario, are experiencing acute shortages to available veterinary services. These shortages are putting severe strain on veterinarians and their practices and are ultimately hindering opportunities for growth in the province’s livestock sector.
In 2022, The Livestock Veterinary Innovation Initiative (LVII) was launched to improve and expand veterinary care options for livestock farmers, particularly those in rural and remote parts of Ontario. The AAC administered this 6-month program that delivered cost-shared funding to veterinarian practices to address identified industry challenges, especially those posed by the long distances between many farmers and veterinary clinics. Eligible veterinarian practices could apply for cost-share funding to support project ideas to better serve their livestock farmers in three main categories:
Telemedicine/ Diagnostic Equipment (including mobile/cellular and video monitoring solutions and veterinary hematology analyzers)
Handling Equipment (including portable large animal handling equipment such as head gates and squeeze chutes, associated vehicle modification)
Education/Training (education and training on new equipment or techniques)
The program was widely promoted by AAC, across government channels, Ontario’s agricultural commodity groups, the Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph) and the College of Veterinarians of Ontario. 77% of the applications were from identified underserviced areas which included all Northern Ontario Districts (Rainy River, Kenora, Thunder Bay, Cochrane, Temiskaming, Algoma, Sudbury, North Bay, Parry Sound, and Manitoulin) along with the Counties of Renfrew and Haliburton, the Townships of Addington Highlands, Carlow/Mayo, Limerick, Wollaston and Georgian Bluffs, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula, and the District Municipality of Muskoka.
The program delivery wrapped up in March 2023, but has already paid dividends for participating vets and their clients-especially in Northern Ontario. Many projects funded technology improvements for remote veterinary care including on-farm digital radiographs, mobile x-ray and ultrasound diagnostic equipment.
Feedback from project applicants was overwhelmingly positive with both the level of financial support and the overall satisfaction with program delivery including communications, application support and the claims process. Project applicants noted how these technology and equipment upgrades will enhance services and reduce wait-times for their clients immediately.
The program was also appreciated by the veterinary businesses as a means to invest in equipment which would be hard to justify economically without funding support. According to one project applicant, “Although we strive to increase animal welfare, the economics of a business are always factored in. The payback on these equipment purchases has been reduced from 10-20 years to 5-10 years. While still a long ROI, the increases to animal welfare are obvious already.”
The Livestock Veterinary Innovation Initiative program was funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative. This program was delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).