Caring for groups of livestock and groups of young children share many similarities when it comes to disease prevention and control. I am reminded of this a week after Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) came home with our daughter for the third time since August. Since they often inhabit the same spaces, they eat, drink, and play together. Both young children and livestock taste surfaces while exploring their environments. It’s wonderful for developing social skills and also wonderful for spreading pathogens. Neither toddlers or livestock can effectively wash their bodies after every encounter with an infected individual or contaminated surface. As caregivers, we have to do our best to prevent disease from entering the system, because once it is there, control becomes increasingly challenging. Some illnesses can be treated effectively with antibiotics, but the more we use antibiotics, the greater resistance is built within the bacterial population. Not to mention, that viruses (like HFMD) cannot be treated with antibiotics. Given all this, the best way to fight illness is through prevention.
Beginning on January 1, 2017 Veterinary Feed Directives (VFDs) will be required for use of any fed antibiotics for livestock that are also medically important for humans. A VFD is similar to a prescription, but does not need to be filled by a pharmacist, only approved by your veterinarian. Feed stores can continue to sell feeds and minerals containing antibiotics, but the seller must have a current VFD to buy them. Antibiotic feeds have been used for years as ways to prevent and treat bacterial illnesses in livestock and this has helped improve herd health. In conjunction, antibiotic feeds have been used unethically by some parties to promote weight gain or to compensate for sub-par management practices. Research has shown and concluded that overuse of antibiotics increases resistance to their effectiveness in the long run. Therefore, it is important for human and animal health to only use antibiotics when disease is a present threat (not just suspected) and in an ethical manner.
There are many ways to stop disease before it starts and they have been identified for livestock producers in quality assurance (QA) guidelines. To quote the Good Production Practices (GPP) factsheet, “It is every animal owner’s responsibility to assure that proper management and welfare are at the core of animal care.” There are ten core GPPs:
- Use an appropriate veterinarian/client/patient relationship as the basis for medication decision-making.
- Establish and implement an efficient and effective health management plan.
- Use antibiotics responsibly.
- Properly store and administer animal health products.
- Follow proper feed processing protocols.
- Establish effective animal identification, medication records and withdrawal times.
- Practice good environmental stewardship.
- Maintain proper workplace safety.
- Provide proper animal care.
- Utilize tools for continuous improvement.
These are the core guidelines for herd health. Inevitably, disease will still get through our barriers on occasion. When it does consult your veterinarian about how to treat the herd, whether it be with medication, isolation of infected animals, or improved practices. The best things you can do in preparation for VFD implementation in 2017 is to establish and maintain a relationship with your veterinarian and follow QA guidelines.