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In a gesture designed to ''tip the balance in favour of the cows'', Southern vet practice VetSouth is offering free services to struggling dairy farmers experiencing record low payouts.
During August, farmers will receive one free calving callout, and all visits to examine and treat sick cows will also be free.
Director Mark Bryan said depending on how the month went, the offer could be extended.
The veterinary practice had seven clinics in Southland and West Otago and employed about 45 vets, 30-35 of them involved in large-animal care, he said yesterday.
The economic reality for dairy farmers in tough financial times was many would shoot rather than treat cows that were sick or going through difficult births, he said.
''We thought that wasn't good enough and we could do better ... by supporting the farmers who supported us. We wanted to tip the balance in favour of the cows.''
Farmers typically wanted to do their best for their stock and it was hoped the offer would ''remove some of the pain'' and ease both the situation for both farmers and cows, he said.
''The reasoning behind this is simple - it's not a cow's fault if she gets sick in a low-payout season.''
VetSouth vets attended more than 700 calvings last year, he said.
Mr Bryan said the decision to help farmers was made by the board of directors, who were not sure how the staff vets would react.
But the response had been overwhelmingly positive.
''We assured them it wouldn't affect their salaries and the business would absorb the cost, just in the same way the farmers are having to absorb their difficulties.''
He would not say what the cost to VetSouth would be.
''It's too expensive [to quote],'' he said with a laugh.