Proper drug use and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) starts with the baby dairy calf, and the new Gold Standards III from the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association (DCHA) address these important procedures. The DCHA Gold Standards III are animal welfare standards for rearing dairy calves and heifers, from birth to freshening, across the United States.

Jim Brett, DVM, Mississippi State University, says that veterinarians play a crucial role in helping their dairy clients understand and implement proper procedures when administering drugs to calves.

Emphasizing BQA
Producers and their employees must be aware that the calves they are treating today will eventually become market cows, in other words, beef. “Studies have shown that even the injections we give as calves will affect beef quality and consistency years later,” Brett explains. “Even injecting sterile saline intramuscularly will affect tenderness years later.” Brett has shown producers photos that show the tissue reaction in muscle from calves vaccinated IM when the animal is processed. 

“BQA procedures are best taught when we lead by example,” advises Brett. “Promptly addressing any BQA violations is important to not let bad habits become standard protocol.” Brett says common BQA mistakes include estimating weights, stopping medication or swapping to another antimicrobial before recommendations and using an incorrect route.

The importance of protocols
The Gold Standards III recommenda the development of written protocols. Veterinarians developing and monitoring the adherence to proper protocols is important. “Veterinarians actually treat and vaccinate only a small percentage of livestock themselves,” Brett says. “Producers often will ask everybody from the salesman at the feed store to a neighbor about how to treat an animal before asking a veterinarian. If any veterinarian wants to help minimize improper drug use, protocols are a must.”

Along with protocols come adequate records which must be in place to review for adjustment and to review compliance. “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen and I never take someone’s word about therapy not working if it’s not documented,” Brett says. “I review procedures on each visit and only make changes after I feel we have enough information to make any changes. All protocols — treatment and vaccines — should be reviewed at least once a year to make major changes or change products.”

Because some treatments for calves may be extra-label, it’s critically important that there be clear communication between the veterinarian and producer and proper recordkeeping — this not only protects the producer but also the veterinarian. “When I was in practice I would have the farm manager or owner sign an affidavit that they would follow my label recommendation to the letter,” Brett says. “It also contained language that their protocols were for their farm use only — if it got out to the public, it would be pulled and they could find another veterinarian.”

Brett would also show the producers brochures from FDA on the Animal Medicinal Drug Clarification Act to help drive home the point of the laws that are in place and the severity of a violation. “I frankly tell them they are putting my license and reputation in jeopardy if they don’t follow my label.”

Brett notes that most of our antimicrobials work well when we give them correctly and for the proper duration. “Failure occurs when they misdiagnose or fail in giving supportive or ancillary treatment such as fluids and anti-inflammatories, or there are cases where the disease overwhelms the body such as with massive exposure or inadequate immunity, which goes back to reviewing and evaluating colostrum management.”

To evaluate these “failures”, Brett says to check records and calves. “Have the employees tell and show you what they have been doing — sometimes it’s not what’s on the record. When there are repeated perceived failures by the farm, they should contact their veterinarian to review the problem. Never make changes in protocols without seeing the animals first.”

After colostrum, environmental controls, including biosecurity between calves, is the most important area to stress in calf development. “Personnel need to go to the calves before the cows or change clothes and boots between them,” Brett says. “Care for the youngest calves first to the oldest, leaving any sick calves to feed and treat to last.”

Also, proper equipment sanitation is important. “If you wouldn’t eat or drink from it, don’t let the calf,” Brett says. In addition, veterinarians should review the use of clean dry bedding and vector control such as flies. 


The drug therapy standards
The Dairy Calf & Heifer Association drug therapy standards section in the new Gold Standards III are:

Therapeutic agents can help treat infections, minimize pain and relieve suffering in sick animals.

A. Use drug therapy as prescribed by the herd veterinarian to treat disease  and relieve pain and suffering.

B. Follow Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines for handling and administering all medications.

C. Develop written, on-label treatment protocols with the herd veterinarian.

D. Train new employees on diagnostic and treatment procedures and review protocols with veterinarian and employees quarterly.

E. Follow label instructions for dosage, treatment frequency, route of administration, age restrictions, withdrawal times and storage recommendations.

F. If animals do not respond to treatment protocol within 48 hours, seek veterinary examination.

G. Discard expired or contaminated drugs.

H. Keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all treatments.

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Avoid these drug use mistakes
Beef Quality Assurance is important even down at the baby calf level. Jim Brett, DVM, Mississippi State University, discusses some of the common mistakes made on dairies that can detrimentally affect BQA.

“One of the mistakes I’ve seen are expired or contaminated products,” Brett says. “Producers may buy the 50-dose vial to save a few pennies but going in and out of the bottle on multiple treatments will contaminate the vial and can lead to some nasty abscesses.” Dosing and route of administration mistakes are also easily made if someone is careless. “Some suppliers still put ‘follow labeled directions’ instead of those on my prescription and occasionally a mistake is made with the wrong label or incorrect instructions,” Brett adds.

Brett says if a producer is buying product from someone else, he includes a review of the drug storage area. “Let’s me help with the proper separation of drugs (lactating separate from non-lactating), help with inventory control and insure the labels are correct,” he says.