While the Food & Drug Administration’s new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule went into effect Oct. 1, 2015, livestock producers can expect to see new labels for medically important antibiotics on the feed of food animals by Jan. 1, 2017.

Mike Apley, professor of production medicine and clinical pharmacology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said while the new labels are still about a year away, he encourages livestock producers to use 2016 to start planning ahead with their veterinarians and to build the necessary veterinary/client/patient relationship, if not already in place, that this ruling requires.

The new VFD rule will demand some veterinarian and client interactions that weren’t required before regarding the use of medically important antibiotics in feed and water, said Apley, a veterinarian who specializes in beef production medicine. The use of these antibiotics in feed will require authorization from a veterinarian via a VFD that is then sent to the feed mill or wherever the medication is being purchased. The use of medically important antibiotics in water will require a veterinary prescription.

Apley gave the examples of “ranchers who are used to using chlortetracycline in mineral to control anaplasmosis in cattle or feedyards using tylosin to control liver abscesses: Veterinarians will now need to authorize those uses based on the label.”

The VFDs work similarly to prescriptions given for other products used for livestock. The veterinarian will learn about the producer’s operation, assess the medical challenges and then prescribe antibiotics, if needed, according to what is stated on the labels.

Requiring VFDs could mean an additional costs for producers, which may bring added concerns with already declining farm markets and sale prices this year. However, Apley encouraged producers to use the newfound relationship with their veterinarians to add value to their operation beyond the written prescription.

“If you are working with a veterinarian who can’t provide you value when charging you to come work with you, find another veterinarian, because there are a lot veterinarians out there who are anxious to help you and who are well-schooled through continued advancement of their knowledge base. I think it’s a value proposition for the producer to have that veterinarian interaction,” he said.

Apley added that certain current practices on operations could be costing producers more than benefiting them. For example, a practice that is not included on labels – and is, therefore, illegal today (and will continue to be after the labels begin to require a VFD) – is using tetracyclines in feed to address foot rot or pinkeye.

“These just aren’t on the label, and extra-label use in the feed is illegal,” he said. “There are some antibiotic uses cow/calf producers and cattle feeders might be doing that from now on are going to need authorization, but they may find a veterinarian says ‘no’ because it’s not needed, not effective or not legal. And, if it’s not doing you any good, then spending money for it isn’t helping anybody.”

Once the connection with a veterinarian has been established, it’s time to begin planning for the next year, Apley said. Start thinking ahead about what issues may arise and which issues may require antibiotics, and talk to your veterinarian about scheduling time to meet about the VFDs.

“Start planning with your veterinarian, and be ready if maybe something you have done for years has to change,” Apley suggested. “Find a veterinarian, and build a relationship that is rewarding. As for veterinarians, we have a lot of work to do in deciding what works and what doesn’t to get ready to serve our clients.”

University vet: Prepare operations for new VFD rule