MORNING VIEW, Ky. (WKRC) – Todd and Nancy Kloentrup operate Poverty Hollow Farms in southern Kenton County, raising about 30 mother-calf pairs of black angus cows.
Nancy is also a semi-retired large-animal veterinarian, and she’s worried about the future of the cattle industry in the Bluegrass State.
That’s because Kentucky faces a dramatic shortage of vets who are willing or trained to treat large animals like cattle or horses, two of the commonwealth’s largest agricultural exports.
"A lot of people don't realize that Kentucky is the largest beef cattle production state east of the Mississippi and most of the beef cattle produced in Kentucky are from small farms,” said Nancy Kloentrup, whose farm has been in her husband’s family since the 1800s.
According to the Kentucky Agriculture Cabinet, there are only 54 practicing large animal vets in the Commonwealth out of nearly 1,700 total statewide – with only two servicing Northern Kentucky.
The issue stems from the fact that many large- or food-animal vets are retiring and not many new vets want to enter the field.
It's a rural lifestyle and can also be dangerous. For example, Kloentrup has broken her hip and hand treating cattle. And veterinary medicine has become increasingly expensive, with new grads facing upwards of a quarter-million dollars in school loan debt.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles this week convened a new task force to tackle the issue and come up with possible solutions.
"It is a persistent disadvantage to our producers because Kentucky is a livestock state,” Quarles told Local 12 in a phone interview. “The lack of vets that service our 38-thousand cattle farms is becoming problematic."
Quarles ends his term at the end of this year. He's hoping for some of these recommendations to be implemented before he leaves office, saying he challenged the task force for those solutions by this fall.
Some suggestions include identifying possible new vets from rural areas who are willing to move back home, or discounting or refunding student loans using tobacco settlement money.