Resolve a closer relationship with your veterinarian this year

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Farm Forum

How are you coming on your New Year’s resolutions? The turn of the calendar is a good time to dream about and plan for positive changes for 2015. I hope that you have come up with some good ones that are still well on track!

I’d like to suggest one more resolution for you to add to your list. Resolve to get to know your veterinarian and their practice just a little bit better this year.

Those of you who have read my column over the years know that I’ve always been a huge advocate for using your veterinarian. There is no one better to guide you not just on animal health issues, but on nutrition, behavior, reproduction, and marketing as well. This applies no matter whether you have one pen of bucket calves, a herd of 600 beef cows, or a couple of hay-burning horses out back.

But during the next couple years, changes are looming in how we provide for the health of our animals. This means that for some of you, that informal, occasional relationship with your vet may need to transition to one that’s more formal and regular.

These pending changes will affect how we use antibiotics in animal feed. The FDA has started the process to provide more veterinary oversight to the use of what they deem “medically important” antibiotics in food-producing animals. These changes are coming gradually, but they are coming. Two years from now our current system will have been converted to one that requires veterinarians to sign off on the uses of feed-grade medications such as chlortetracycline (CTC), sulfas, and tylosin.

Right now these feed-grade medications are available over-the-counter to any animal producer. You can back up your pickup to the loading dock at the local feed store and take home 50-pound bags of these medications to use in the feed to treat sick animals or stave off disease outbreaks.

After these changes, you will still be able to back your pickup up to the local feed store. Before they load you up, however, you’ll need to show them a Veterinary Feed Directive form, or VFD. This is essentially a prescription form for the medication signed by your veterinarian. It outlines the medication to be used, the feeding rate, the animals it will be fed to, and the length of time for the treatment.

What does all this have to do with my suggested New Year’s resolution? The VFD form can’t be signed by just any veterinarian. You and the veterinarian must have a valid “veterinary-client-patient relationship” in place. This means that the veterinarian must know your operation and your animals well enough to make informed decisions about their care and treatment.

For the majority of animal producers, this will not be a stretch. Their veterinarian has visited and been consulted enough that he or she knows the care of and challenges faced by those particular animals well enough to properly advise treatment. For others, however, this may change the way they’re used to doing things.

Some producers will look at the prospect of increased veterinary involvement as a cost and an unnecessary burden, but I believe that is shortsighted. Rather than raising costs, increased veterinary involvement could just as likely mean savings for the producer. Veterinarians are likely to find ways to refine how these products are used, and target them to the right animals at the right time, rather than rely on a shotgun approach to treatment.

Now is the time to shore up your veterinary-client-patient relationship. Schedule a time to sit with your veterinarian and go over your challenges and plans for the future. Review your animal treatment plans and disease prevention strategies. Ask your vet what new techniques and procedures they have learned about recently.

And by all means, if you don’t currently use a veterinarian, or have a list of four or five that you call only when needed, choose a practice and start getting to know them better. Having a healthy veterinary relationship in place now will not only help you comply with these new regulations, it will pay off in lots of different ways when it comes to everyday care of your animals.

Russ Daly, DVM, is the Extension Veterinarian at South Dakota State University. He can be reached via e-mail at russell.daly@sdstate.edu or at 605-688-5171.