VFD feeder pig photo

The implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) about 18 months ago has livestock producers re-examining their use of antibiotics.

Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, says the VFD led to veterinarians working more closely with producers on antibiotic strategy.

“Some of the veterinarians are working more diligently with producers, so there is definitely more interest in using fewer antibiotics or being antibiotic-free,” he says.

Burkgren says with disease pressure a constant concern for pork producers, there is a need to look at different methods, rather than relying on a specific product.

“Veterinarians are getting in barns like they weren’t able to before, so we’re getting away from routine usage of antibiotics,” he says. “The veterinarians are working with producers to take a hard look at all uses of antibiotics.”

Those strategies could include changing weaning ages and targeted vaccination, he says.

Burkgren says producers are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to data collection and are putting in the time to research all animal health strategies.

“Producers are working on a pretty slim margin again, and they are looking at that line item for veterinary care pretty hard,” he says. “There are a lot of producers looking at alternate strategies. The consumer is moving more toward no antibiotic usage, and I think they understand livestock producers are trying to use as few antibiotics as possible.”

Reinforcing biosecurity protocol has also helped decrease the need for antibiotics, says Grant Dewell, Iowa State University Extension beef veterinarian.

“We are looking at ways where you can minimize exposure, quarantines, sanitation at the calving area,” he says.

Dewell says much attention is being paid to alternative strategies such as the use of probiotics or prebiotics, essential oils, vitamins and minerals.

“We have seen a fair amount of work with probiotics as far as controlling E. coli in the feedlot,” he says. “Prebiotics and essential oils haven’t been researched as much. It’s going to be a while before we know much about them and how effective they might be.”

One mineral that has garnered a lot of attention is cobalt.

“Cobalt is one of the newest, because it’s beneficial for immune function when an animal has been exposed,” Dewell says. “You only want to use it in low levels, however. We’re still learning quite a bit about it.”

He says different management strategies can also reduce disease risk and limit the need for antibiotics.

“We’re paying more attention to biosecurity, and that helps,” Dewell says. “Better sanitation is also going to be very beneficial to keeping disease away.”

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.