By Jennifer Womack, WyFB Correspondent

Newcastle — Industry professionals say the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that will take effect at the end of this year will require stronger communication between ranchers who use feed-based antibiotics and their veterinarians.

 The VFD is intended to encourage judicious use of antibiotics within the industry, addressing concerns some people have that antibiotics are becoming less effective in treating human illness.

“I think it is in our absolute best interest to make certain that we, as a cattle industry, implement this effectively,” says Kevin Ochsner, who farms and ranches in northern Colorado, owns Agcellerate, LLC., a management consulting firm and hosts “Cattlemen-to-Cattlemen” on RFD-TV. “In my opinion, there will be continued pressure on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The VFD is our opportunity to demonstrate to the public that we engage veterinarians in the use of medically important antibiotics and that we are willing and able to follow federally mandated guidelines to do our part in ensuring that antibiotics are being used judiciously.”

Ranchers who use feed-based antibiotics that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared medically important will need to obtain a vet-authorized Veterinary Feed Directive, similar to a prescription, before purchasing medicated feed. Medically important antibiotics are those used in both human and animal medicine. The list, under the Food and Drug Administration’s Guidance #213, includes Pennicillins, Cephalosporins, Quinolones, Fluoroquinolones, Tetracyclines, Macrolides, Sulfas and Glycopeptides.

An article in the Spring 2016 edition of BeefVet Magazine also offers the following list of non-medically important antibiotics, used exclusively in animals and not regulated under the pending regulations. They are Ionophores, Polypeptides, Carbadox, Bambermycin and Pleuromutilin.

The VFD document for medically important antibiotics is produced in triplicate — a copy for the vet, one for the producer and one for the feed store. Veterinarians writing the VFD are required to have an ongoing veterinary-client-patient relationship with the livestock producer, and be licensed in the state where the VFD is written. FDA isn’t releasing a pre-made form, but relying on veterinarians to create their own documents. Technology companies, like Global Vet Link, are offering computer based forms.

“Today, if a farmer or feeder has a pen of cattle that are sick,” says Dr. Brent Kaufman, DVM, of Goshen Veterinary Clinic, “they might stop at the feed store and get Terramycin crumbles and run them for five days and then stop. Now it’s going to be that we have to have seen those cattle recently and we have to write up a feed directive.” Kaufman says it is going to be increasingly important for producers to have a working relationship with their veterinarian and he suggests doing a broader review of the operation during annual activities, such as bangs vaccinating. He says the VFD will also impact producers who, for example, have used treated lick tubs in treating illnesses like scour.

“You’ve got to have your ducks in a row before the crisis occurs,” says Kaufman. “Talk to your veterinarian and arrange a health inspection so they’re familiar with your operation.” Doing so, he says, makes it possible for the vet to write a prescription without making a special trip out to your place of business.

University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Steve Paisley, Ph.D., says he doesn’t expect the impact to be huge for producers who have a solid and existing relationship with their veterinarian. “For those ranchers who are very independent in how they work, it’s going to mean developing a relationship with a vet or vet clinic to the point where they feel comfortable with that client-patient relationship.” The rule, he says, doesn’t eliminate the use of the medically important antibiotics, it just specifies their use for certain disease treatment and prevention.

During late June meetings with Wyoming’s veterinarians, State Veterinarian Jim Logan said he heard greater concern regarding the VFD from vets who service Wyoming’s cattle feeding areas. “Producers certainly need to make themselves aware of these issues and work with their vet, who should also be made aware if he or she isn’t already, and do some pre-planning,” said Logan.

Paisley sees the greatest use of feed-based antibiotics in Wyoming for the treatment of outbreaks of sicknesses like foot rot, pinkeye, or mass treating groups of freshly weaned calves. “In those scenarios, this is going to be an inconvenience,” says Paisley. He says larger feedlots with a consulting veterinarian on staff won’t feel the impact as much as smaller operations. With the state’s large animal veterinarians already in short supply, he does worry about the impact the rule will have on their workload.

“Producers in the state,” says Scott Vetter, National Account Manager for ADM Alliance Nutrition, “are going to have to have a better relationship with their veterinarian and more closely monitor the way they use medication in their livestock operations.” Feed stores, he says, won’t be able to sell the regulated products unless a producer has secured a VFD. He estimates that around 30 percent of all feeds shipped into the state by his company currently include some form of medication. This includes feed for all species, not just cattle. He’s hopeful producers will come to companies like his to discuss holistic approaches and management steps they can take to maintain healthy animals, minimizing the need for antibiotics.

“I believe when it comes to managing health of cattle there’s a genetic component, an animal handling component, a nutrition component and a vaccination component,” says Ochsner. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to think about not just the antibiotic products we use, but rather to take a step back and ask what we could or should be doing in our operation to improve immunity and overall herd health to reduce the need for antibiotic treatment.”

Is the FDA Guidance #213 the beginning of increasing regulations? “I asked that same question,” says Vetter. “Short-term, the answer is no, but as an industry we have to exhibit good animal husbandry and judicious use of the antibiotic tools we have.”

“I believe that if we stub our toe on the implementation of this,” says Ochsner, “it will open the door to increased oversight and regulation, or it will speed increased oversight and regulation. This new guideline should not damage our ability to be good stewards of our livestock, but it will require some advanced planning. This rule should provide us with the impetus to sit down with our vet, and ask ourselves what we could be doing on our operations to reduce the overall need for antibiotics. When we have the need for antibiotics, we should ensure we’re using the right product, at the right dose for the right amount of time.”

Ochsner describes antibiotic resistance as a complex issue that warrants the attention of all of society. Parents need to ensure they’re properly administering antibiotics to their children when they are prescribed, giving them at the proper dosage for the entire time prescribed. Pet owners should also be expected to use antibiotics judiciously. Doctors are being called upon to only prescribe antibiotics when they’re truly needed.

“I want to ensure that antibiotics work ten years from now as well as they do today,” says Ochsner. “I want to make sure my son, when he’s ranching, has effective antibiotic tools to treat his cattle. That requires all of us to take a hard look at how we’re using antibiotics.”

“It’s going to take time to implement,” says Kaufman. He, like other veterinarians, expects the initial phase to prove difficult. He also wonders how the U.S. Department of Agriculture will police this expansion in rules. “It’s more government,” he says.

“There’s always going back to running them through the chute and giving them injections,” says Kaufman. The rule doesn’t impact the current use of injectable antibiotics.

Paisley reminds producers that Inophores, including Rumensin and Bovatech, are still available for use. “I use them in my range cows, and it’s almost critical for goats and sheep. They improve feed efficiency and control Coccidiosis.”

Producers using, or planning to use, medically treated feeds are encouraged to visit with their animal health professionals in the months leading up to implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive. The rules take full effect at the end of this calendar year.