The drain is resulting in veterinary practices facing shortages as retirees are not being replaced.
A system similar to the GP schemes of Caredoc, Dubdoc and Southdoc — the out-of-hours family doctors service for patients with urgent medical problems — is being called for to stem the loss of vets as matters reportedly reach crises levels.
Vet Pete Wedderburn, a broadcast journalist with Newstalk Radio, said young colleagues are no longer willing to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in poor working conditions and with bad pay.
“Gone are the romantic days of post-World War II Yorkshire Dales vet James Herriot and All Creatures Great and Small being called out to cows calving and ewes lambing in all types of weather with an imaginary smile on his face.
“This type of life placed a huge burden on rural vets and young graduates are no longer willing to accept this anymore. We are, after all, in a new century where living in the past is unacceptable in veterinary terms.
“Young vets are graduating from the Veterinary College in UCD and not staying here because of conditions and pay. The fear is that we [veterinary authorities] are doing too little too late, ” said Dr Wedderburn.
A recent study in the Veterinary Ireland Journal revealed 110 vet posts are vacant nationwide.
Animal health experts claim out-of-hours work, unattractive rota systems, and limited practice supports are driving new graduates away from large-animal country practice towards small-animal clinics in urban areas and abroad.
Last June, a total of 121 students graduated from veterinary medicine in UCD. The points to get onto the veterinary course this year have fallen slightly to 564.
Prof Michael Doherty, the Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine in UCD, says the lack of vets is impacting on small farmers in parts of the West and NorthWest such as the counties of Donegal and Mayo.
He said more than 60% of this year’s graduates will remain in Ireland, working mostly in mixed practice, treating farm animals, horses, and small animals.
“There is a challenge in providing veterinary services to the remote areas of the west and north-west of the country and the Minister of Agriculture is aware of that,” said Prof Doherty.
“There is a challenge of driving long distances to see sick animals on isolated farms.”