While the new veterinary feed directive drug ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went into effect Oct. 1, 2015, livestock producers can expect to see new labels for medically important antibiotics used 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 that while the new labels may be 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 ruling 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 the authorization from a veterinarian via a VFD and 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.

“For example,” Apley said, “ranchers who are used to using chlortetracycline in mineral to control anaplasmosis in cattle, or feed yards using tylosin to control liver abscesses, veterinarians will now need to authorize those uses based on the label.” 

These VFDs work similarly to prescriptions given for other products used in 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 cost for producers, which may bring additional worry with already declining farm markets and sale prices this year. However, Apley encourages producers to use the newfound relationship with their veterinarian 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,” he said, “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.”

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

“These just aren’t on the label, and extralabel 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. Start thinking ahead about what issues may arise, what 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 said. “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.”