Diagnostic sampling of farm animals by private veterinary practitioners can be an important contributing factor towards the discovery of emerging and exotic diseases. This focus group study of farm animal practitioners in Northern Ireland investigated their use and expectations of diagnostic veterinary laboratories, and elicited their opinions on the role of the private practitioner in veterinary surveillance and the protection of rural public health. The veterinarians were enthusiastic users of diagnostic laboratories, and regarded their own role in surveillance as pivotal. They attached great importance to their veterinary public health duties, and called for more collaboration with their medical general practitioner counterparts. The findings of this research can be used to guide future development of veterinary diagnostic services; provide further insights into the mechanics of scanning surveillance; and measure progress towards a ‘One Health’ approach between veterinarians and physicians in one geographical region of the UK.