New Zealand’s first female vet was Pearl Dawson, who obtained an American diploma in veterinary science by correspondence around 1920 and went into practice in Auckland.
By 1950 there were eight registered women veterinary surgeons, and by 1993 about 330, out of a total of 1,900 vets. The number of women veterinarians training at Massey University increased gradually, and by 1997 66% of the second-year students were women.
In 1995 about 69% of women vets were in clinical practices. Nearly two-thirds of women were working in companion animal (small animal) practices. Most of the rest were in government or university employment.
Pearl Dawson, New Zealand’s first woman vet, was also an excellent hockey player, and received the British Empire Medal for services to sport. It was said that her vet work helped develop her strong arms and shoulders, and made her a formidable hockey opponent.
By 1999 the number of women vets had risen to 645 – 34% of all vets. In 2008 46% of vets were women – 1,033 out of a total of 2,235 practising veterinarians.
From the 1960s veterinary science and veterinarians took a greater role in pastoral farming, particularly of sheep and beef cattle. With increasingly intensive farming practices, there was a need to better understand animal diseases and how to manage them.
Disease control programmes were set up, and were refined as new challenges arose, such as internal parasites developing resistance to anthelmintic drenches. Veterinarians highlighted the increasing effects of such animal diseases on farm income.
The relatively low individual value of sheep and beef cattle, and the costs of drugs and veterinary fees, meant that first-aid treatment was often a trade-off – at some point it is cheaper for a farmer to dispose of a sick animal, and lose its production or carcass value, rather than spend money on curing it.
Special interest groups
In the early 1970s the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) set up a special interest group for veterinarians working with sheep. The group later included beef cattle, as the farming systems were similar.
Over the years other special interest groups have developed, including groups for dairy cows, deer, goats, pigs, and camelids (llamas and alpacas). In 2008 the NZVA had 14 special interest branches, and 15 regional branches.
Farm production increased as new technology developed, such as ultrasound scanning for detecting pregnancy in cattle and sheep. Although some work, such as scanning or injections, was done by technicians, veterinarians were usually involved in planning, and in incorporating results into the overall farm plan.
Veterinarians have benefited from new DNA techniques for diagnosing disease, modern drugs and vaccines, and computer technology for managing information of all types.
Technicians and scientists
Trained technicians have played an important role in farm animal production over the years. In the mid-20th century the livestock officers of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries were closely involved in eradicating brucellosis in cattle, and controlling tuberculosis in cattle and deer. Herd testers and artificial-breeding technicians worked on measuring dairy cattle production and selective breeding of dairy cattle.
Agricultural and veterinary scientists have played an important role in developing modern methods of animal production and disease control. They have often relied on veterinarians for the application of this technology in the field.
From the earliest times, vets (then almost all male) received assistance and support from their wives, who acted as receptionists, theatre nurses and general help. From 1982 formal training courses for veterinary nurses were offered through polytechnics, and since 1995 advanced training has been available at the Massey University Vet School. The New Zealand Veterinary Nurses Association was formed in 1991.
Vaccines for farm animal diseases were introduced to New Zealand early in the 20th century, and were initially produced by government laboratories. The development of the privately owned Tasman Vaccine Laboratories in the 1950s, together with the importation of drugs by companies such as Burroughs Welcome and Coopers made a wide range of vaccines available. More recently, both the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and commercial vaccine companies have developed a range of vaccines for sheep against infectious conditions that cause abortion.