TWIN FALLS | The days of a feed truck waving as he passes the veterinarian at the end of a farm driveway are nearly at an end.
“We’re on the steep part of the VFD (veterinarian feed directive) learning curve,” said Marty Short. He’s the feed general manager for Intermountain Farmers Association. “We’re trying to figure out how to implement this rule and how to create the relationships to make it happen.”
Starting Jan. 1, 2017, veterinarians will have to write a prescription for medically important antibiotic use in livestock feed and those antibiotics can only be used to treat specific health concerns. Sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics, often for faster gain or better feed efficiency, will be prohibited.
Randall Raymond, director of research and veterinary services for Simplot Livestock did a quick internet search and came up with a list of 280 animal health products that will be impacted by the label change. Fortunately, most cattle producers deal with less than 10 of those and he expects most beef producers in Idaho actually only use two to five of those.
One example is chlorotetracycline, a product that has 11 separate approvals for use in cattle. Eight of those are to treat or control health issues ranging from liver abscesses to bacterial pneumonia. Those labeled uses will continue but the three approvals for weight gain and feed efficiency will be discontinued in 15 months.
Consumers concern that livestock producers are overusing antibiotics and contributing to antibiotic resistance in the general population helped push the changes, even though the livestock industry counters that they have been using medicated feeds wisely.
“Every medicated feed we manufacture is (already) sold under a specific FDA directive,” he told a crowd of about 25 livestock producers, veterinarians and extension personnel during a workshop held in Twin Falls last week. Most of the antibiotics are included in milk replacer, weaning rations and mineral supplements. “The big change is the veterinarian oversight,” he added.
Getting nutritionists, feed manufacturers, producers and veterinarians to sit down at a table and craft strategies that focus on improving animal health and showing consumers the industry is a good steward of antibiotics will be a challenge.
There aren’t enough large animal vets available and now those that are practicing will need to spend more time with their producer-clients. Educating companion animals vets about the changes will also be key as many smaller livestock producers see a small animal vet more often than a large animal vet.
Raymond also recommends that all livestock producers begin considering management changes that can eliminate or reduce use of feed grade antimicrobials. He used Simplot as an example.
Ten or fifteen years ago, Simplot Livestock put all the weaned calves from their cow-calf producers in four states together in large pens. Mortality losses were unacceptable, he explained. Then managers started keeping the calves together in weaning groups for the first 45 days on feed and death losses went from unacceptable to exceptional.
“We did it without using antibiotics,” Raymond said. “It just had to be done.”
Jared Brackett, who ranches in the Three Creek area, was like many other cattle producers in the Intermountain West. Even though he had been asked to give a producer perspective about the FDA changes, he didn’t realize the coming restrictions on antibiotics were limited to feed use. He thought the changes applied to injectable antibiotics as well. It doesn’t.
“I think the majority of producers aren’t aware that this is coming,” Brackett said. “There will be a lot of misinformation, there will be need to be a lot more education.”
Bracketts used to put out medicated feed or medicate water for cattle, but got to the point that preventive management was a lot easier than doctoring sick animals. “I think we do a better job with vaccinations,” he said.
He is afraid that smaller producers won’t think it applies to them until they have a disease problem and stop at their local co-op to pick up a bag of the medicated feed they’ve been using for years, and it’s no longer available.
Polling numbers from a series of these workshops sponsored by the American Farm Foundation around the country echo many of the sentiments expressed by the panel at the Twin Falls meeting.
While everyone seems to agree that production costs will increase when the feed efficiency labels are taken away, there is no agreement on what that will mean for actual antibiotic use. One-third of respondents think antibiotics will be used more judiciously when vets are in charge of their feed use, one-third say antibiotics won’t be used more judiciously and another third are neutral.
Kevin Oschsner, the meeting moderator, isn’t sure what that means.
“People are either saying we already are using antibiotics judiciously so this won’t change things or antibiotic use will increase because they will have to use more injectables to treat disease,” he said.
The polling also shows a disconnect between how vets view their role livestock operations today and how producers see them. About 60 percent of vets say they provide management consulting to producers, but 37 percent of producers say their vet provides strictly clinical advice.
“That may be a benefit of this new rule," Oschsner said, "if it develops stronger, deeper relationships between veterinarians and producers."