Dairy farmers and employees make decisions every day about which cows need medical treatment, and what medical treatment to give them. Unfortunately, many times this decision process receives less-than-ideal thought and effort. What processes should be put in place to make sure the right cows are given the right medicine at the right time?
I recently attended the Food Armor™ training session in Madison, Wis. The program trains veterinarians on how to put on-farm management tools in place to prevent drug residues, improve food safety and ensure the appropriate use of medications.
Every dairy farm should have an identifiable team involved in the process of medical treatments to cows. This team is the backbone of the farm’s Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR), legally required for the performance of many on-farm treatments.
This team should include the farm’s veterinarian of record, the owner, the herd manager and employees who identify or treat sick cattle. Each team member should have an identifiable role in the process – in writing and updated regularly – no matter what size of herd. The veterinarian of record is the person responsible for assisting the farm with treatment decisions, protocols and oversight of treatment records.
Veterinarians and farm owners and managers should also review all drugs stored on the farm, regardless of where the medication was purchased, and if it is over-the-counter or prescription. Do you know what each drug is used for on your farm?
Each drug should have a treatment protocol associated with it. According to federal law, using a medication in a manner not listed on the label requires the prescription or recommendation of your veterinarian of record. Written treatment protocols for the most common diseases should be provided by your veterinarian – and they should be followed. This allows you to use medications to treat cows in the manner advised by your veterinarian, without the veterinarian examining them.
Choosing the correct cow to treat is an important part of the decision-making process. How many times has the mastitis cow we found today been treated for mastitis? Is she a candidate for culling versus treatment? Is the prognosis for recovery so poor that euthanasia is a better choice?
Choosing the correct drug is also important. Every cow deserves an exam to determine her problem. Then, refer to your treatment protocol for the correct medication. Too many times we see “off-feed” cows given antibiotics without any idea of the cause of their problems. A step-by-step process to identify the correct drug to use is important for recovery from illness and the economical use of your drug inventory.
Records should be kept on every treatment. Daily treatment logs should be placed into a cow’s permanent file, and federal law requires treatment records be kept a minimum of two years. Ask your veterinarian to regularly review your treatment records. Have you ever asked your veterinarian to do this after your herd check? Why is this important? Isn’t it just a reason to increase my veterinary bill?
There is ample evidence meat/tissue residues are due to off-label use of medications, use of medications without a veterinarian’s involvement and failing to record treatments. About one in 40 dairy cows are condemned at slaughter – a black eye for our industry. Don’t risk your farm’s reputation by adding to the risk of selling a cow with drug residues. Do not sell cows unfit for consumption: sick cows, those that have not recovered, those having drug residues, those treated with unapproved drugs or significantly lame cows.
Using your veterinarian to develop protocols, evaluate your drug list, review records and work with your treatment team will typically do three things: decrease the risk of a meat or milk residue, decrease drug expenses and improve treatment outcomes.
When our prevention measures fail cows, we need to be there to help them on the road to recovery. Ask your veterinarian to review these steps with you during the next farm visit.
Fred Gingrich, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and owner of Country Roads Veterinary Services, Inc., in Ashland, Ohio. Contact him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.