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Ten-minute chat
  1. Victoria Roberts

Abstract

Victoria Roberts is currently president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society. She works as a small animal locum and has a particular interest in poultry.

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What got you interested in poultry?

I was brought up in the countryside of Suffolk. We had a large vegetable garden plus hens for eggs and, at the age of four, it was my job to stop the turkeys fighting. I was too small to lift the usual bucket of water that was effective in quelling their aggression, so I was given a railway bell instead. It was just as effective.

How did you get to where you are today?

I have always been happiest surrounded by animals, but my very old-fashioned father did not want me to be a vet as he was afraid I would be stuck in a city treating cats and dogs. In those days you did not argue, and it took me a good many years to realise that my career was within my control.

I moved to Worcestershire in the early 1980s and ran a poultry tourist attraction with about 3000 birds – a variety of breeds of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. It was inordinately hard work and I was not only breeding and looking after the birds but running the business as well.

I was frustrated that I could not do enough for either the poultry or our farm animals, and decided that I would investigate becoming a vet. I had originally taken the wrong A levels, so I took four science subjects in a year. I moved to Yorkshire and began training at Liverpool in 1995, starting teaching birds there in 1998. After graduation, I decided that being a small animal locum would give me the flexibility to continue my other interests, which include writing books on poultry. I am honorary veterinary surgeon to the Poultry Club (www.poultryclub.org) and a judge, with 35 years' experience breeding, showing and judging poultry. I have edited the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) publications (four annually) since 1999, and was elected BVZS president in April this year.

How do you spend a typical day?

I am an early riser and get any writing done then. Whether I am going to a practice or not, my working spaniels get walked here in hilly West Yorkshire, which keeps us fit and gives me time to think.

I have an irritatingly high enthusiasm and positive slant on life. I love gardening and still keep too many chickens, but they are definitely excluded from my vegetable garden. Watching the ornamental waterfowl in our orchard at the end of a hard day is relaxing: they range from black swans to Hottentot teal and include my favourite – red-breasted geese.

What do you like about your job?

It is better than I anticipated. I love the variety of each day, and the several practices that I go to are all illuminatingly different; my computer skills have expanded to include all of the veterinary management systems. I love teaching, and cover bird and small furries' anatomy and diseases at Liverpool. However, I am finding that backyard chickens are so popular that vets need to catch up on their knowledge of chicken and waterfowl diseases in a pet setting, so am lecturing around the country. I am pleased with my work/life balance.

What do you not like?

Arrogance.

Why is your job important?

I set out with the objective of improving the welfare of backyard poultry as it is a rising hobby; vets need this specialised information to cope with the increasing number of pet chickens that are presented with diseases and disorders, often caused by owner ignorance.

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What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?

I am always delighted to have back-up in what is a small but growing area of veterinary practice, but as with all animals, if vets keep them they have a vital understanding and empathy, which the clients spot immediately.

What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Choose your goals carefully as you might just achieve them.

What was your proudest moment?

Qualifying, aged 48, in 2000.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Getting to work on the wrong day at the wrong practice.

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