For some time now, livestock producers and veterinarians have been gaining an understanding of the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules. These rules went into effect on January 1, 2017, and as the year progressed, livestock producers have been confronting what those rule changes mean for their own operations. Before January 1, feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) for their animals could be purchased and used by livestock producers without any input from a veterinarian. Now, in order to use those medications, a VFD form from a veterinarian must be obtained.
Understanding the New Rules
As all parties have quickly discovered, the VFD process is more than just having a vet’s signature on a scrap of paper. Because there is no allowance for using feed-grade medications in an “off-label” manner, veterinarians completing the VFD’s have had to pay exquisite attention to every detail on the label, including the dose, duration of feeding, reasons (disease treatment vs. control) for feeding, and the diseases the medication could be used for.
For many cattle producers, the fall of 2017 has been the first time they’ve encountered this new way of doing business. Issues with pneumonia post-weaning, or following arrival of feeder cattle have always been challenges. In past years, uses of CTC in cattle feed have been subject to very little oversight, and some of those uses, although well-intended, were off-label. With the onset of the new rules, producers are having to square their previous treatment methods with what a VFD can – or can’t – allow them to do.
A VFD can’t provide for refills, like a prescription one might get from a family doctor. This means a producer can’t use the same VFD form to come back and get another quantity of medicine if it’s determined to be needed later on.
- Expiration Dates
All VFD’s have expiration dates, and that’s a point of confusion as well. A VFD actually expires when the treatment is done (or the expiration date is reached – whatever comes first). Even though a VFD might not expire until February (authorizing a treatment any time until then), if a 5-day treatment is finished in November, the VFD is finished too.
- Repeat Treatments
A VFD can’t contain a statement authorizing a “retreatment as needed” or “repeat treatment in xx days.” An animal can’t show up on a VFD form more than once. If another round of treatment is necessary, a veterinarian will have to issue another VFD for the second treatment. That means that some groups of cattle might need 2 or 3 separate VFD’s written for them.
- Animals Covered
A VFD can’t be written for more animals than the veterinarian expects you’ll have on the farm. The veterinarian is responsible for indicating the number and location of the animals to be treated. This might get a little tricky for producers who buy several groups of feeder calves over time. Veterinarians might decide to only write the VFD for what is currently on the farm, or they could write it for the number eventually expected, if they are confident that number will be eventually procured.
A VFD can’t be written to treat or control pneumonia when there isn’t any pneumonia in the cattle. In the past, it was not uncommon for treatment doses of CTC to be fed to cattle to “get ahead of” an outbreak, or to “clean up” the calves’ respiratory tract in anticipation of problems. When treatment doses are authorized by a VFD, this implies that active pneumonia is present in the group. It doesn’t mean producers have to wait until each and every calf is sick – but clearly, CTC labels don’t allow for using treatment doses in a group of completely healthy calves. This is the veterinarian’s call. If their clinical judgement tells them there’s pneumonia present in the group, they can write the VFD.
It’s understandable that some livestock producers are feeling pinched by what a VFD can’t do. However, these new rules can do one very valuable thing: giving livestock producers an opportunity to interact with the one local professional who can best guide them through health-related decisions about their animals – their veterinarian. Since the VFD’s implementation, many of these interactions have resulted in more effective and efficient use of these tools and consideration of disease prevention methods that preclude the need for antibiotics. These conversations are definitely a positive by-product of these new regulations.