What you can’t do with a VFD

By Russ Daly
Special to the Farm Forum

For some time now, livestock producers and veterinarians, myself included, have been wrapping our heads around the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules. These rules went into effect back in January, 2017, and as the year progressed, livestock producers confronted what those rule changes meant for their own operations. Before January 1, producers could get feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) for their animals without any input from a veterinarian. Now, a VFD form from a veterinarian is needed before such medications can be purchased and used.

As all parties quickly discovered, the VFD process is more than just having a vet’s signature on a scrap of paper. Because there is no allowance for using feed-grade medications in an “off-label” manner, veterinarians completing the VFD’s needed to pay exquisite attention to every detail on the label, including the dose, duration of feeding, reasons (disease treatment vs. control) for feeding, and the diseases the medication could be used for.

For many cattle producers, this fall has been the first time they’ve confronted this new way of doing business. Issues with pneumonia post-weaning, or following arrival of feeder cattle have always been challenges. Talk to enough of these producers about their previous use of CTC, and it won’t take long to discover a lot of those uses were off-label. Well-intended, but off-label. Now they’re having to square their previous treatment methods with what a VFD can – or can’t – allow them to do.

A VFD can’t provide for refills, like a prescription we might get from our family doctor. This means a producer can’t use the same VFD form to come back and get another quantity of medicine if they think it’s needed later on.

All VFD’s have expiration dates, and that’s a point of confusion as well. A VFD actually expires when the treatment is done (or the expiration date is reached – whatever comes first). Even though a VFD might not expire until February (authorizing a treatment any time until then), if a 5-day treatment is finished in November, the VFD is finished too.

A VFD can’t contain a statement authorizing a “retreatment as needed” or “repeat treatment in xx days.” An animal can’t show up on a VFD form more than once. If another round of treatment is necessary, a veterinarian will have to issue another VFD for the second treatment. That means that some groups of cattle might need 2 or 3 separate VFD’s written for them.

A VFD can’t be written for more animals than the veterinarian expects you’ll have on the farm. The veterinarian is responsible for indicating the number and location of the animals to be treated. This might get a little tricky for producers who buy several groups of feeder calves over time. Veterinarians might decide to only write the VFD for what is currently on the farm, or they could write it for the number eventually expected, if they are confident that number will be eventually procured.

A VFD can’t be written to treat or control pneumonia when there isn’t any pneumonia in the cattle. Some producers acquired the routine of feeding treatment doses of CTC to cattle to “get ahead of” an outbreak, or to “clean up” the calves’ respiratory tract in anticipation of problems. When treatment doses are authorized by a VFD, this implies that active pneumonia is present in the group. It doesn’t mean producers have to wait until each and every calf is sick – but clearly, CTC labels don’t allow for using treatment doses in a group of completely healthy calves. This is the veterinarian’s call. If their clinical judgement tells them there’s pneumonia present in the group, they can write the VFD.

It’s understandable that some livestock producers are feeling pinched by what a VFD can’t do. However, I’ve also seen what these new rules can do. They are giving livestock producers an opportunity to interact with the one local professional who can best guide them through health-related decisions about their animals – their veterinarian. Since the VFD’s implementation, many of these interactions have resulted in more effective and efficient use of these tools and consideration of disease prevention methods that preclude the need for antibiotics. These conversations are definitely a positive by-product of these new regulations.

Russ Daly, DVM, is the Extension veterinarian at South Dakota State University. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or at 605-688-5171.