How new VFD rules will apply to calves and heifers

Starting next year, there will be changes in the way some animal health antibiotics are prescribed and used.

We hear considerable argument about the factors contributing to the loss of antibiotic efficacy and the role animal agriculture plays in it.

In general, the public has been led to the conclusion that antibiotics are overused in agriculture and contribute to the resistance problem. Critics of our current regulatory framework have called for the removal of all antibiotics from livestock production. Meanwhile, many food retailers and restaurants are offering products produced from animals that are "antibiotic-free," hoping to appeal to a market segment attracted to these claims.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is changing the manner in which feed-grade and water-soluble antibiotics can be used in animal production. FDA has the support of all drug manufacturers in this new approach. These changes are referenced by the term "Veterinary Feed Directive" or VFD. All changes take effect on January 1, 2017.

Antibiotics are now classified as medically important or not medically important. If a drug is not used in human medicine, its status and regulations affecting its use are unchanged. However, if a drug is shared-use (used in both animal and humans), it is deemed medically important and subject to new regulations. A full explanation of the changes is beyond the scope of this short article, but discussion of the key issues affecting calf raisers follows.

There is no change in the use of ionophores (Rumensin®, Bovatec® or Gainpro®) or coccidiostats (Corid® or Deccox®). However, the use of chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline, and the combination use of neomycin/oxytetracycline, are affected by the new rules.

New antibiotic use rules

Any use of these medically important antibiotics in feed will be under the direction of a veterinarian as stipulated in a VFD form the veterinarian completes. The veterinarian can authorize the use of these products, but only under the exact label directions. There is no extra-label use of any feed grade antibiotics, even with a VFD. Your feed provider cannot sell you the antibiotic without a signed VFD document, and then can sell only in accordance with the veterinary instructions. A veterinarian cannot provide a VFD without a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship.

Any water-soluble, medically important antibiotic is strictly under prescription from the veterinarian. These products will only be sold by the veterinarian and cannot be purchased over-the-counter.

Antibiotics in calf products

Currently, milk replacers medicated with the neomycin/oxytetracycline (NT) combination are commonly available. This medicated milk replacer option will likely go away when it requires a VFD and restrictions reduce its marketability. It is expected that a medicated NT pack for addition to milk replacer or whole milk will be available (still requiring a VFD) as a more targeted approach.

The producer will purchase a non-medicated product and hand mix the NT at the time of feeding if so prescribed by the veterinarian. Milk replacers that contain Deccox or Bovatec remain unchanged.

Most calf starters are medicated with Bovatec or Rumensin and are unaffected by the new regulations. One area that will be seriously affected, however, is the use of chlortetracycline (Aureomycin®, CLTC®, Chloratet®, ChlorMax®, Pennchlor®, Aure S 700® or Pennchlor S‚Ñ¢) or oxytetracycline (Terramycin®, Pennox®) crumbles/pellets. Any use of these products will be under the direction of your veterinarian.

What can you do now to prepare?

The most important step is to have a good working relationship with your veterinarian.

You will lose your access to some antibiotics in the future without having a veterinarian as part of your management team. One added responsibility will be to maintain records of all VFD drug usage for at least two years (when was it purchased, when was it used, what groups of cattle were medicated, etc.).

You have time to prepare for the upcoming changes, but start now!

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