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Ten-minute chat
  1. David Harwood


David Harwood works in the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency regional laboratory at Winchester. He also knows a lot about goats despite having never owned one.

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What made you leave practice to join the State Veterinary Service?

My time in farm animal practice in Witheridge, Devon, gave me the fantastic foundation upon which I've built my career. Partnership opportunities never really materialised and after nine years I decided to apply to join the (then) Veterinary Investigation Service after establishing a good rapport with my local laboratory at Langford.

Describe your job.

My day-to-day work revolves around the investigation of farm animal disease incidents through postmortem examination, laboratory testing and discussion with practice colleagues. This routine work also contributes to the data gathering and analysis that forms a foundation to Great Britain's veterinary surveillance strategy, which is currently under review. I also manage the AHVLA (formerly VLA) welfare programme.

What do you like about your job?

Even after nearly 30 years, I still enjoy my time in the postmortem room; you never know what you might find when you open a carcase. I also enjoy having students with us on EMS and other placements – they constantly make you think about how and why you do your job.

What do you not like?

The increasing burden of accountability, for example, through quality systems and health and safety, which are both important in their own right but equally frustrating at times.

Why is your job important?

I like to think we are providing an important service to two customers. First, to the taxpayer, through a portfolio of activities that are designed to detect the next emerging threat to either the livestock sector or the consumer, and, secondly, to individual vets and farmer clients who consult us with a specific problem.

Tell us about your interest in goats.

When I worked in Carmarthen in the late 1980s I was asked by the Welsh Office to help it assess a developing rural interest in commercial goat farming in Pembrokeshire and, in their words become ‘our goat expert’. Now I'm an honorary vet to the British Goat Society and lecture on goat health and welfare at a number of UK vet schools. I've never owned a goat though!

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

Grab opportunities when they come along, and don't be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. In my case I had always wanted to be a farm animal practitioner, but when after nine years my career aspirations led me up a blind alley, I decided to try something completely different, and here I am.

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

I've been fortunate to have had a number of mentors throughout my career who've given me some great practical and theoretical veterinary advice. If I had to select one single piece, however, it would be my wife telling me to believe in my own ability – I now pass this advice on regularly to my daughters!

What was your proudest moment?

The births of my daughters and watching them develop into who they are today, and taking my late father out on my round for a day shortly after I qualified as a vet, are definitely near the top.

… and your most embarrassing?

Dancing to the Birdie Song (dressed in yellow tights and a chicken costume) on stage in Blandford Forum with Harry Corbett, Sooty and Sweep, at a Round Table charity evening.

Tell us something not many people know about you.

Although vertically challenged (at just over 5′ 8”) I broke and then held my school high jump record of 5′ 9′′ for 15 years doing the straddle into a sandpit.

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