Andy Biggs is a cattle practitioner at Vale Veterinary Centre in Devon. He is an international mastitis consultant and has been president of the Western Counties Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association.
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What got you interested in mastitis?
I was seeing practice in Sevenoaks, Kent, in the late 1970s. The practice was running a Wellcome Trust-funded research project investigating whether dairy cows could get too low a somatic cell count, and whether that predisposed them to Escherichia coli mastitis or possibly more severe infection.
After being in my current practice for about a year, my then senior partner, Alan Hopkins, suggested I should ‘do some sort of project’. I decided to teat-end score a herd of around 130 cows milked in a rotary parlour (quite new in those days) weekly, and compare my findings to bacteriology of all cows as they calved, were dried off or had a case of mastitis.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was born into a veterinary family and grew up in East Anglia – hardly dairy country. I saw practice from an early age and, despite my father trying to put me off (to make sure I wanted to be a vet!), I qualified from Liverpool in 1981. I moved to what was then Griffiths and Partners, Tiverton, as my first job, became a partner in 1986 and have been here ever since.
What activities does your job involve?
My days vary from days being a ‘real’ cattle vet to running the commercial milk laboratory, which is based at the practice. I also lecture to vets and farmers on mastitis, and am involved in consultancy mastitis visits as well as research and education with many of the vet schools. My days away also include being a TB adviser to both the Welsh and UK governments.
What do you like about your job?
I like the variety of general practice, although the calvings are getting harder for me as I get older. I still very much enjoy the routine visits and contact with farmers. I also like the wider variety of the other activities of my job.
What do you not like?
I have been a bit slow to realise that the autumn can be a taxing time, as most veterinary meetings seem to be crammed into this time of year. Having not learned to say no, I end up with too many days away from my family and the practice.
Why is your job important?
Every vet's job is important.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Go for it! How many other people are doing a job 30 years down the line, and still getting a real buzz out of it? There is so much to be done. And, as with most jobs, what you get out is directly proportional to what you put in!
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
There are moments in your life where your mentors give you words of wisdom you always remember, and two spring to mind. When I was a young student, frustratedly struggling with a manual task, Dr Alfie Marr commented that if I was as good as him at my stage what had he been doing for the last 30 years? I now use that phrase from the position of being the experienced vet. My second memorable piece of advice – from when I had been in my current practice for a few years – was from my then senior partner, who told me that to progress to becoming a partner it would help if I made myself indispensable.
What was your proudest moment?
Watching my children graduate: my eldest son as an engineer from Imperial College London; my daughter, who is a teacher, from UCL reading geography and, yet to come, my youngest son from Newcastle, again as an engineer.
. . . and your most embarrassing?
I was giving a series of talks at a mastitis seminar in Cremona, Italy, where there were some highly skilled EC staff doing a simultaneous translation of the whole conference. My presentation slides had been translated into Italian and they looked very different; I had to concentrate hard to change the slides at the right time. Just before my last lecture – unbeknown to me – I was to be awarded a book and lapel badge by the president of the local cattle veterinary association. I was wearing the earphones and composing myself to start my last lecture when, out of nowhere, to me at least, I was approached for this little ceremony. It took me by surprise, and, yes, I was startled, much to the amusement of the delegates. I couldn't say anything in Italian to apologise and nor it seemed could they in English; however, the humour of the moment seemed to cross the language barrier.
There is also an issue with my name. Although christened Andrew, from my school days I have often been called Andy. I call myself Andrew when I publish articles; however, the media often refer to me as Andy (much to my mother's annoyance). One solution to this is the third name I am known by – ‘Biggsie’.
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