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How OV work has diversified my practice

24 May 2021 | Charlotte Raynsford


BVA Media Officer Charlotte Raynsford spends five minutes with Ashley Marshall, Practice Principal and Veterinary Surgeon at Westpoint Farm Vets in York, to find out more about her work as an Official Veterinarian (OV).

How OV work has diversified my practice Image

Tell me more about your role, how did you get into it?

I was a farm vet helping to run a branch of Westpoint Farm Vets, near York.

The work used to be very seasonal, working mostly with sheep and cattle. I fell into the export of products of animal origin (POAO) because a practice where we were doing clinical work needed some export checks. As I gained more experience, I ended up doing more export checks and export consultancy. We then started to provide an export service for other practices and vet partners, and I soon became a clinical vet as well as an Official Veterinarian.

What does a typical day look like for you?

When it comes to export work, we have ongoing contracts with existing clients, providing them with traceability, and getting exports set up. We also provide support for businesses wanting to export. Now that we have left the EU, third country export work is actually more straightforward than ‘direct’ export work (say to the EU for example). My job often involves going into factories, observing products, and making sure they meet the standards. I am also responsible for signing EHCs.

Every day, I'll probably spend a minimum of three hours helping companies sort their EHCs, and making sure that products get through. I see it as ‘factory to finish’. I also work with exports of live animals. We mostly help with exports of sheep, cows and alpacas, mainly for breeding in Northern Ireland. I will do things like TB testing, blood sampling, and making sure that the animals are fit to travel. I will also look at what a particular country expects, and what tests need to be done in the 30 days prior to export. My work with live exports has tailed off slightly since Brexit, and we do a lot more product export now.

How has Brexit affected your business?

The export load has increased exponentially since Brexit. There are now hundreds if not thousands of products that need signing off, and only a vet can do this. The paperwork is a lot more complicated now, so it's been a steep learning curve for exporters and OVs.

One of the problems we are seeing at the moment, is that companies now must provide documents that they never had to before. Our job is to help them with this. Communication between exporters, us, farmers, and industry is important.

What is the best and worst part of your job?

My role is very diverse. I can be doing a caesarean on a cow in the morning, and checking milk exports in the afternoon. The OV work fills the gap for our practice when there is no seasonal farm work. It's another way to support the practice and diversify our work.

Being an OV is not always thrilling, and there is a lot of paperwork, especially since Brexit. However, there can be some surprisingly positive aspects such as getting an insight into the food industry, and seeing inside some of the largest factories in the country.

When things don't go smoothly or aren’t on time, this can be a hazard of the job on the export side of things. As an OV, you are a part of a big chain and if this happens, it can hold up the whole process, and be very frustrating.  

OV work has opened my eyes and given me a more rounded view of how the food industry works. I mean, have you ever thought about how the microwave packets of rice are made? The process goes through so many different stages. It can be a fascinating thing to watch. We also do a lot of cakes which include dairy products, now. When it says it’s ‘hand filled’, it really is. These cakes are filled by people who can spread sauce and fill, like no one I’ve ever seen.

As mentioned, I have also been able to visit factories that have state of the art technology and innovations, such as robot arms that look almost human. It's been amazing to see what happens to products later on down the line. As farm vets, we are always working towards making sure animals are producing well, but we don't often see the products past that point.

What advice would you give someone considering OV work?

I would say be realistic in your expectations of it but the more interested you are in a business the more interesting things you see. For example, don't be afraid to ask for a tour of the factory- it can be a real eye-opener!

There is a balance to be had if people want to mix things up and diversify. I know that a lot of vets are not necessarily interested in OV work, but it has become a very important thing for our practice. At the end of the day, people want to be paid well and the work fills the seasonal gaps.  It can also be great opportunity for a vet who might have had an injury. They might not necessarily be able to do farm work, but can still be involved in the veterinary profession. 

This job can be really rewarding, and it doesn't have to be all or nothing, it can be something you do alongside other types of work.


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