Veterinary surgeon, Brian Ryan, is one of three partners in Mulcair Veterinary Clinic. The busy mixed practice operates from two bases - Cappamore, Co. Limerick and Newport, Co Tipperary.
A Limerick man from Ballysheedy, Brian grew up on a dairy farm and was always interested in veterinary from a young age. As a child he looked up to local vet, the late Kevin McCarthy.
“I remember being impressed by how he conducted himself on our farm. He was held in high esteem by our family. And, to be honest, it looked like he was making a decent living,” Brian commented.
Brian always liked working with animals, having had cows and horses at home. “I liked working outdoors and I liked the idea of going farm to farm, and thank God, I still like doing that,” he said.
Brian graduated in 1984 from University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine. Anna, Brian’s wife, is also a veterinary surgeon and qualified the same year. The two went to Wales following graduation, where they worked in a rural mixed practice in the middle of the country.
“The practice was literally on top of a mountain, a beautiful area. It was ideal for a young graduate. It had cattle, sheep, horses and small animals; it was a perfect mix,” Brian said.
After five years in Wales, Brian and Anna returned to Ireland in 1989 and took up positions at Mulcair Veterinary. Brian had seen practice with the clinic as a student and was drawn back. Himself and Anna have remained there ever since.
Mulcair Veterinary Clinic is a busy mixed practice with two bases in Cappamore and Newport. It is roughly 75% large and 25% small animal, with the large animal 65% cattle and 10% horses.
While only seven miles apart, there is a vast difference in the land type between the two locations. The Cappamore side of the practice is predominantly dairy, roughly 80:20 dairy to suckler. While the Newport side is the direct opposite, with 80% suckler and 20% dairy.
The original practice in Cappamore was started by the late John O’Connor, who then became a professor in UCD; coincidently he taught Brian and Anna when they were in college.
He sold the practice to Con O’Neill and Pat O’Brien, the original partners in the practice. After a few years Pakie Ryan and Frank Doran came on board and it became known as O’Neill, O’Brien, Ryan and Doran.
To avoid an even longer title when Brian joined as a partner, Pat O’Brien came up with the idea of calling the practice Mulcair Veterinary, after the river Mulcair which runs through Newport and Cappamore.
“At the time I was the youngest of five partners and now I’m the oldest of three, John Berkery and Sean Coffey being the other two. Both John and Sean started their careers in Mulcair Veterinary and have remained on as partners. Which I suppose is a good reflection on the practice,” Brian commented.
Mulcair Veterinary Clinic has a large team consisting of eight vets, three veterinary nurses and five administrative staff, as well as a few people working part-time. Each member helps ensure the smooth running of the practice.
Two of the team, Anna and Sean Coffey, spend most of their time in the small animal clinic - one in each centre. The other six vets are on the road catering for large animal clients.
“We’re fortunate in that we have a reasonably compact client area. While we have neighbouring practices all around us, we don’t have any practices within our area, so we don’t do an excessive amount of driving,” Brian explained.
While equine isn’t a huge part of the overall business, it is a significant part of Brian’s work as he tends to the majority of equine cases. “It’s a nice diversity from the cattle work; it’s nice to mix the two,” he commented. With mostly sport horses in the area, Irish Draughts and Connemaras, a typical day for Brian can consist of anything from scanning mares and marking and microchipping foals to castrating and vaccinating.
Another area Brian is interested in is cattle fertility. He spends quite a bit of his time bull fertility testing and scanning cows, particularly this time of year.
Weird interesting things
“So, randomly in the surgery today is a starling with a broken wing,” Brian said half-surprised. Anna was putting a pin in the tiny bird’s humerus, in the hopes of a good outcome.
“This is obviously not for monetary gain, but just for the craic. I think you got to approach veterinary a little bit like that; you have to have a bit of craic,” the Limerick vet stated.
In the last two weeks, the clinic has had three baby owls from different locations brought in after falling out of their nests. “We had never seen a baby barn owl before and we’ve had three in the last fortnight. Michael, our veterinary nurse, is an expert in all things avain, so he’s been tube-feeding and getting them going,” Brian said.
The most unusual case Brian has encountered for a long time was last spring - a very sick cow who had ruptured her uterus after difficulty calving.
“We performed surgery and we removed her uterus, which I had never seen or heard of, or had any real idea of how to do it. But with the aide of two young vets and a bad flashlight we managed it.
“I wouldn’t recommend someone to do it again but that was interesting; you get a buzz out of that sort of thing and farmers like when you have a go, even when the odds are against you. She could have easily died of shock at the time, but she didn’t; she was a hardy individual and she’s still there to this day,” Brian recalled.
Becoming part of XLVets Ireland has been a huge development for Mulcair Veterinary Clinic according to Brian. “The big advantage for us in XLVets is that it provides a network of like-minded practices and individuals, who, for the most part, are trying to improve the service they provide to their clients,” he said.
XLVets provides continuing professional development (CPD) for all the practices within the XLVets group. “On a very regular basis there is something that can be useful to your practice, whether it is teaching people how to bull fertility test or parasitology or faecal egg counts.
"We have used all of those courses and brought back the skills to our practice. It has been a huge benefit. It makes everyone up their game a little bit and makes everyone more confident in what they are doing,” Brian explained.
New services provided by Mulcair Veterinary, thanks to XLVets training, include a variety of herd health investigations.
“We have for instance a respiratory disease scheme called PneumoMentor, where we take a number of blood tests from a group of young weanlings. From that we can get a reflection on what viruses they are carrying and what viruses we will try and prevent before housing,” Brian explained.
Other schemes provided include in-house parasitology FaecoMentor and MastiMentor for milk quality analysis. The practice is now doing bull fertility testing also. “These are all services that we weren’t doing a few years ago. It’s something that farmers find hugely beneficial,” Brian added.
The highlights and challenges
Brian enjoys the social side of the veterinary profession. “I like getting to know my clients; it’s interesting for me to watch the next generations of farmers and vets and how they are progressing and learning and improving.
“And I think our challenge is to continue to do that. If you stand still in this game you’re finished; you need to keep improving.
“My thoughts on practice has always been not the number of clients, but rather my client’s veterinary needs. Whether that means testing their bull or grooming their dog, we should be able to provide the full package,” Brian said.
The Limerick vet acknowledged how increasingly difficult it is for practices to get large animal vets. “You’ve got to make it attractive for the vets in the first place. One of the main advantages we have is that we have a very attractive rota - this time of year we work one night in seven and one Sunday in seven,” he explained.
Brian also touched on the importance of striking the balance between veterinary and personal life. “Probably like any profession, but particularly vets, I think we can get too bogged down in work. I have a very good life outside of veterinary. I played a lot of sport as a younger man and I still play indoor soccer.
“When I clock off I clock off and when I’m working I’m working; that’s the way I’ve always approached it,” he said.
Mulcair Veterinary takes in a lot of veterinary and transition year students. Brian highlighted how important it is to see if the career is suited to the individual. Communication skills are key in the veterinary profession and it is something Brian always looks out for in young aspiring vets.
“You have to be able to communicate and you have to be able to listen. It’s of no value if you’re an absolute genius if you can’t impart your message to the client,” he explained.
“Personally, I like teaching these young folks, they’re like sponges. And I think the more you can instil in them how you perceive practice the better it is. I get a lot of enthusiasm and learn new things from them as well.
“Our current team of vets is made up of a lot of 25-year-olds and they’re great. They have huge energy and they bring a vitality to the practice which I think is necessary. They don’t know it all but they’re very willing to learn,” Brian said.
In 2000, a new clinic was built in Cappamore, which at the time Brian thought was far too big for their purposes. The practice is now increasing the size of its current operation by 30% because its not big enough.
“It’s difficult to anticipate 20 years down the line what’s in front of you, but as I said already, you can’t stand still,” Brian reiterated.
Going forward Mulcair Veterinary Clinic plans to become more technology-based, adapting to the rapidly evolving agricultural industry.“There’s less and less veterinary going to be done at the side of a crush; it’s going to be in a board room looking at lab results on a screen. We’ve got to prepare for that,” Brian concluded.