A North Cumbrian vet who has pioneered IVF for cattle in the UK and played a leading role in the Foot and Mouth crisis, has been honoured.
David Black, managing director and founder of Paragon Veterinary Group, has been awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
It is the most prestigious award the veterinary profession can bestow.
“The real honour about this is that it is a peer award, and that is why I feel so humbled and proud,” says David.
Since buying a small three-person practice in Dalston in 1994, he has built Paragon into a leading independent veterinary group with 25 vets and centres in Newbiggin and Wetheral.
David’s interest was fired when, aged 11, he watched a family friend who was a vet operating on a sheep.
“It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen and there was a bit of blood around. And I decided there and then, that’s what I wanted to be,” says David, who grew up in north-east Scotland.
He lives near Ivegill with his wife Sue, who is a health visitor. They have three grown up daughters.
Today David is known internationally as an expert in cattle reproduction and fertility, travelling all over the world to lecture on the subject.
His work on advanced cattle breeding and embryo transfer led to developing IVF for cattle in the UK.
“It hadn’t been done much in this country. My practice partner Will Christie was doing a bit in the late Nineties but Foot and Mouth stopped it. In 2004 to 2006 we started looking at that again.”
David and his small team, which today consists of three vets and five technicians, based at Newbiggin near Penrith, blazed a trail.
He also set up a company called Activf-ET providing cattle IVF nationally. It means that farmers can improve their herds quickly using IVF to produce calves with useful genetic traits such as a tendency to be healthy, meaning, for example, they need fewer antibiotics.
“We have some very advanced research underway looking at improving the embryo transfer process,” says David.
Another innovation was XLVets, which David co-founded in 2006, acting as managing director for 11 years. “That is about sharing skills and knowledge and developing a network of independent practices working together,” he says.
The scheme has now spread to Ireland, New Zealand and Canada.
He also co-founded VetSalus, an organisation dedicated to international collaboration between farmers, food corporations and vets.
David ended up playing a leading role in the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001.
“We were the worst hit practice in the UK. Someone had to stand up – we were in Cumbria with all this carnage around us and Tony Blair at that time was saying everything was fine,” he says.
“We had a meeting at the practice and decided we should start to speak out, and by that evening I had interviews in the media.”
David later contributed to one of the government enquiries into the crisis.
“The highlight of my career is seeing Paragon grow to be a vibrant healthy independent practice,” says David.
“I am proudest of the people that have come through, the vets, veterinary nurses, veterinary technicians and support staff. I’m really proud of that team.”