Ireland’s Vets: Joseph Byrne


Veterinary surgeon, Joseph Byrne, spent several years in England before returning to Ireland in 2002. Here he tells us about his mixed practice in Skeaghvasteen, Co. Kilkenny.

Ireland’s Vets: Joseph Byrne

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Veterinary surgeon, Joseph Byrne, spent several years in England before returning to Ireland in 2002. Here he tells us about his mixed practice in Skeaghvasteen, Co. Kilkenny.

Joseph Byrne Veterinary Surgery, located in Skeaghvasteen, Co. Kilkenny is a busy single-vet practice catering for the veterinary needs of cattle, horses and companion animals.

Originally from Ferns, Co. Wexford, veterinary surgeon, Joseph Byrne is a graduate of University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine. After qualifying, he went to England for several years where he worked in equine and mixed practices.

Although Joseph has no farming background, this never phased him in deciding to study veterinary medicine following his Leaving Certificate. Growing up, he always liked animals and used to go to Betty Maher’s riding school in Enniscorthy.

“She needed the horses gathered up from a bog every morning, so I used to ride them bare back from the field to get a bit of a free ride out.

“I remember a girl who helped out there telling me that I’d make a good vet. That was the first time it crossed my mind as a good idea,” Joseph recalled.

Joseph Byrne Veterinary Surgery

Joseph returned to Ireland in 2002 and started his own venture two years later when he took over the practice of the late Brian Coad in 2004.

The mixed practice is predominantly large animal, with the ratio approximately 80% farm animal and 20% equine and small animal.

Joseph converted modern stables at his home into a small animal surgery when he first came to Skeaghvasteen. Here he offers a range of services including: vaccinations, pet passports and microchipping and neutering.

Joseph has additional experience and interest in road accident orthopaedics and feline medicine. His small animal surgery attracts more than the average number of cat clients. “It’s almost the same as the dog numbers,” Joseph added.

The Kilkenny vet prides himself on providing a personalised service and knows all his regulars very well. “People have to like you. That’s of equal importance to what you actually know,” Joseph commented.

Of the practice’s farm animal cliental, approximately 70% are beef farmers and 30% dairy. Since the abolition of milk quotas in 2015, Joseph has seen an increase in the number of farmers converting from sucklers to dairy in the region.

The practice provides fertility services, TB testing, routine clinical and surgical work and emergency call-outs.

Providing assistance to herd owners, so they can improve welfare on their farms is of utmost importance according to Joseph. “If you improve welfare, you’re also improving your profitability and efficiency. Certainly, in the Irish context, they are not mutually exclusive,” he noted.

Joseph also does equine work, offering full pre-purchase examinations, vaccinations, microchipping and marking, as well as gelding, lameness diagnosis and fertility work.

Based in the Inistioge/Thomastown area, Joseph very rarely goes beyond a 30-mile radius, except for maybe pre-purchase examinations, he explained. Emergency calls would be within 20 miles.

Joseph really likes the problem-solving involved in veterinary medicine. Especially tricky clinical cases that can be solved in a more modern way.

“There are so many advances in veterinary medicine; simple ones such as prescription diets, which can now solve problems that used to depend, not very successfully, on antibiotics,” he explained.

Joseph is a big believer in prescription diets such as Hills, saying: “It’s amazing how they can solve problems like cystitis, which we used to give a lot of antibiotics to.”

As a single-vet practice, Joseph shares a rota with neighbouring vet, Cathal Roche in Graignamanagh, to get some time off. Being a one-man show doesn’t seem to bother Joseph in the slightest. “You just get used to whatever your system is,” he explained.

Joseph is married with two children, Dominic and Maddy. Away from the surgery he enjoys horse riding with his wife, Sophie, and daughter, Maddy, taking part in charity rides and hunter trials. 15-year-old Dominic prefers soccer, tennis and cricket but is a keen follower of National Hunt racing.

Most memorable case

Joseph said there has been quite a few, but from existing clients, he recalled a particular call to a drooling cow.

“My first employer, Derek Grantham, in Lincolnshire, used to smilingly send us off to our calls saying: “Don’t forget to make a diagnosis.” He was a terrific vet,” Joseph said fondly.

Joseph had those words ringing in his ears going out late one evening to a client in Inistioge.

“You’d assume a drooling adult cow would be timber tongue - a bacterial infection as a result of abrasions in the mouth.

“It was highly tempting to jump to the conclusion of what it was and to give a suitable antibiotic, but I got out my Drinkwater mouth gag and opened the cow’s mouth,” Joseph explained.

With his hand down the back of the cow’s pharynx, he could feel something non-anatomical with his fingers.

“I proceeded to get a tin can out of the back of its pharynx,” Joseph revealed.

“We wouldn’t have saved the cow without having done that. So, I’m always wary of the over-the-phone diagnosis,” he added.

Joseph and that particular client always have a joke about that cow, that she was fond of a drop, but he also highlighted the other side of it; the welfare of the animal. “It was near the roadside, someone had to have thrown that can into the field for her to have come across it,” Joseph noted.

Farming issues

Discussing some of the challenges his clients are faced with currently, Joseph highlighted the shortage of fodder and straw and their rising cost. He also noted the massive drop in the price of cattle, down to below €2.00/kg liveweight during the drought.

Another issue Joseph raised was the sub-par/lack of a computerised ownership system for horses, similar to that of the Department of Agriculture register for cattle.

“Registration of cattle is extremely well-done now, ownership is quickly and efficiently changed when animals are bought and sold.

“The registration of horses is not nearly as efficient or as technically done, allowing for loop holes in the system.

"Our equine welfare was seen in a poor light internationally during the recession,” Joseph said, using the dumping of horses in woods as an example. The Kilkenny vet would like to see more steps taken to prevent recurrence of what happened then.

“It’s impossible to implement legislation if you can wriggle out of ownership. So, it may not seem related but if you can pinpoint the ownership of every horse in Ireland, that would be a huge step forward in implementing welfare legislation,” Joseph concluded.

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