Stettler County hears vet grad numbers could be tripled by 2025

The County of Stettler heard a provincial government expert state that the number of new veterinarians entering the industry from one Alberta university could triple by 2025. The report was made at the Oct. 26 regular Agriculture Service Board meeting.

The board is comprised of members of county council and was chaired at that meeting by Coun. Dave Grover.

Board members heard a presentation by Dr. Keith Lehman of the office of the chief provincial veterinarian, a department of Alberta Agriculture. At the end of the presentation councillors were invited to ask questions.

Coun. Justin Stevens asked if the general impression that there is a shortage of veterinarians in Alberta is accurate. Lehman answered there are shortages everywhere, all sectors, not just in the agricultural sector. He suspected that just about every vet clinic across Canada would like to have more staff.

Lehman stated that vet shortages in urban areas may be affected by the fact more people were interested in owning pets recently, thus increasing the demand for vet services. Lehman also stated higher work loads resulting in burn out may have caused more people to leave the industry over the past few years.

Board member Grover asked if more new vets could be trained. Lehman answered the Alberta government is doing that by allocating more money to the University of Calgary, which has boosted the number of veterinary students from 30-ish to 55, and with planned new infrastructure could hope to increase that to 100 by 2025.

Lehman gave board members an update on high path avian influenza and other serious agricultural diseases, while discussing the different roles the provincial and federal governments play in controlling diseases.

He noted that when a serious outbreak is encountered, the first step is to confirm it, then quarantine the area, make reports to trade partners, watch for spread of the disease, stamp out the disease, look at compensation, engage in long term surveillance and lastly inform trade partners the outbreak is eradicated.

Board member Larry Clarke asked about disposal of carcasses this past summer; he noted there have been complaints based around outdoor composting.

Lehman responded that there are setbacks that have to be followed when composting carcasses and considerations such as leeching that must be watched and noted that there is oversight of such activities; complaints about them could result in an investigation.

Clarke stated large numbers of decomposing carcasses can smell very badly and Stettler County sometimes gets complaints despite the fact the municipality has no authority over these things. Lehman answered the county should forward all complaints to Alberta Agriculture.

Lehman spent considerable time discussing avian influenza’s different strains and how people, swine and poultry can be affected. He said the reservoirs of the virus are waterfowl and shore birds which transmit it to farms, which then spreads through fecal, oral or aerosol means. Then environmental reservoirs such as fomites and mechanical factors come into play.

Lehman stated high path avian influenza is eradicated from most developed countries, while low path avian influenza still occurs worldwide.

He explained that this past summer’s avian influenza began in Europe about a year ago, as the virus was solidly present there. It winged its way to North America, and was detected between December 2021 and early spring, 2022. By March it was past the Carolinas on the east coast, moved into the central United States and by April the first Alberta cases were reported.

He stated that as of Oct. 20, 2022 53 premises in Alberta either had avian influenza or still have it. He stated that 1.32 million birds were destroyed in Alberta and over three million birds were destroyed across the country.

Lehman also discussed anthrax, lead toxicity and some other issues with the board.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review