We often try to find a magic bullet to solve a problem. But in the end, it is often the little things that resolve the issue.  This thought comes to mind as the suddenness of the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) comes about.  Many are wondering what will happen next when we can’t get that magic feed-added antibiotic to solve the problem as we have always used in the past.

The new VFD, mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), took effect January 1. The VFD is basically a prescription from a veterinarian for any medically important feed-added antibiotics.  In the past, antibiotics could be added to the feed with little oversite.  Now, working with your herd veterinarian, you need to establish a need, determine the best product, prescribe the correct dose, and determine the length of treatment. 

With increased attention to management and an eye to the fine details, many times we do not need the added antibiotics in the feed.  With new vaccines, better nutrition in young calves, and new immune enhancers, we often have a healthier animal that does not need a blanket antibiotic. 

Assessing the needs as they come along is a much better strategy than covering a problem with a blanket antibiotic treatment.  In other words, just because a group of heifers is coughing does not mean we need to immediately add a bag of antibiotics to the feed. Unless antibiotics in the feed are fed at the proper level and for the proper length of time, they have very little benefit for the animal and may increase the chances for antibiotic resistant bugs to develop. 

In our practice, we do prescribe feed treatment now and then, but most commonly we will prescribe medication for the water for group treatment.  Calves will drink the required amount of water much longer than they eat their required amount of feed to get enough antibiotics.  A sick animal will go off feed first or decrease feed consumption long before they cut back on water consumption. 

Another complication is feeding antibiotics in combination with other feed additives.  Most grower rations contain ionophores (Bovatec or Rumensin).  In many situations, it is illegal to feed both an antibiotic and one of the ionophores in combination.  With no oversite from a veterinarian, this complication was rarely understood or followed. 

Therefore, as we embrace the new directive from the FDA, let’s accept it as progress and a better way of doing things.  Don’t blame your veterinarian for wanting to pad their pockets, but look at it as a step forward to more judicious use of antibiotics.  The consumer is searching for products where fewer and fewer antibiotics are used without good reason.

Veterinarians have spent more than a year preparing for this change and they have spent a career looking for ways for you to use fewer antibiotics and improve the health of your herd.  Please have this discussion with your veterinarian. Encourage your veterinarian to help find a solution by fixing the little things so you no longer need that magic bullet that may not be so magic after all.


Note: This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Dairy Herd Management.