Veterinarians need to work with livestock producers to ensure they are using drugs legally and properly on cattle farms. Geoffrey Smith, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, North Carolina State University, told veterinarians this week at the Dr. Jack Walther 85th Annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas that the lack of written treatment protocols and the lack of training of farm personnel are two of the most common reasons residues happen.

Lack of training on the farm is also a problem because very few treatments are actually given by veterinarians and Hispanic labor and language barriers are common. “If employees don't understand how to properly give a drug, that can significantly influence withdrawal times.” Smith said a good example of that is giving Banamine IM vs IV which often is responsible for residues. 

Veterinarians may not take the time to write protocols partly because it's hard to find a way to get paid for that service, Smith said. “But we need to convince both veterinarians and producers that this is a priority.”

 “Studies in the dairy industry have identified a very low number of farms that actually have written protocols in place, which is partly the fault of the veterinarian.  If we want treatments to be administered consistently we need to make sure everyone on the farm understands what you want done.” Smith said this may be handled a little better in larger feedlots but in the dairy and cow-calf situation this is a significant deficit. 

The primary keys to avoiding drug residues include:

  1. Establishing a valid veterinary-client patient relationship where you visit your herds on a regular basis and are familiar with their disease challenges;
  2. Establish written treatment protocols for your herds to make sure diseases are correctly identified and treated with the appropriate drugs;
  3. Make sure your herds are identifying treated cattle and are maintaining good treatment records;
  4. Ensure farm employees are trained to administer drugs correctly; and
  5. Establish proper withdrawal intervals when using extralabel drugs.

“Employee drift”

"Employee drift", or deviating from protocols, is a fact of life on large operations as employee turnover can be high and sometimes people just fall back into old habits. Smith usually recommends re-training or at least re-observing things like colostrum management, milking procedures, treatment administrations, etc., on a regular basis, and at least a couple of times a year.

Veterinarians may not be aware of employee changes on operations and who has and hasn’t been trained. “I think maintaining good communication with the herdsman/manager is critical and hopefully they will keep other farm employees up to date on training,” Smith said. “Being able to do classes and/or employee training in Spanish is a huge help. I would encourage anyone getting involved in the dairy or beef industries to learn some basic Spanish or at least have an employee they can depend on who speaks Spanish.”

Getting started on residue prevention

If you are going to design and implement a residue prevention program for a client, Smith said the first step would be to make sure the farm is using a veterinarian and make sure they are buying all their drugs from that veterinarian -- not over the counter, from the feed salesman or from a co-op. “I think producers using drugs on their own (extralabel) without knowledge of how to extend or get a proper withdrawal interval is a big problem.”

The next step would be to make sure the farm is keeping good records on what cows are treated with drugs. “Identifying treated cows is helpful but bands/collars can fall off. The only way to consistently ‘know’ which cows have been treated is to keep good records.”

If you are investigating a residue problem on an operation, Smith said to first start by looking at the drug labels and see where the farm is buying their drugs from. Questions to ask are: How often is that veterinarian on the farm? Do they have protocols for treating cows? How many employees are involved in treatment and do they know what they're doing? What kind of drugs are used (are they all labeled drugs or is the farm using a lot of extralabel drugs in certain animals, etc). 

“Most residue problems are based on producers giving drugs without oversight of a veterinarian,” Smith said. “Taking your producers through the 10-step Dairy Quality Assurance or Beef Quality Assurance programs is really useful.”