Veterinary Feed Directive Q&A

Written by Chelsea Robinson on .

MFA Director of Animal Health Dr. Tony Martin has spent plenty of time on the road recently to answer questions about the upcoming implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive. Here we highlight some of the top questions Dr. Martin took at producer meetings. The rule takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.

1. What will the cost of the VFD be to the producer?
Any cost or fee for the VFD will be at the discretion of the veterinarian who creates it. I have heard fees discussed ranging from nothing to over $100. The bottom line is that producers should expect some fee for the service. I tell producers not to consider the fee as a cost required to buy the document, but rather to consider it a fee for consultation. The real value of the VFD service comes from discussion between the veterinarian and producer about the need for antibiotics, which ones to use and how to best use them. These conversations will likely broach other topics about how producers might decrease or eliminate the need for antibiotic use. There could be room for improved vaccine protocols, environment, livestock handling, nutrition, genetics, etc.

2. How specific must information on the location of animals be for the VFD?
This question has been open to some interpretation. Some believe it has to be an official Premise ID. Some say just the owner’s address if the animals are on the owner’s property and nearby (say within a few hundred acres). Some say the location is a particular road address or coordinates for every building, pasture or facility where involved animals are located.
The commonly accepted answer from the FDA is that you need to provide the physical address where the treated animals are located. This will most often simply be the owner or manager’s address.

3. Do I need a separate VFD for each separate group of animals for the same claim?  In other words, will I need a separate VFD for cows grouped in different pastures for Anaplasmosis control? Similarly, would I need separate VFDs for multiple groups of incoming, commingled calves to receive standard pneumonia control protocol?
My interpretation is that a single VFD would fulfill the need for these examples. You would need to make sure that when you provide information for the VFD that you are giving an accurate approximation of the total number of animals. In the examples above, that would be the total numbers of cows in multiple pastures for anaplasmosis control or the total number of incoming calves to receive pneumonia control.

4. Can one VFD be used to purchase appropriate product from more than one distributor?
The feedback I have received from FDA indicates that this would be allowed—if the merchant locations are all under the same ownership and control (i.e. one company). I would add that the supplier needs to be within a reasonable distance of where the product will be administered per the VFD. In other words, if you have a VFD for animals on a northwest Missouri farm and file the VFD at a nearby MFA Agri Services, you probably ought not to use the same VFD for a farm you own in southeast Missouri where livestock is under someone else’s care. This might not be the case with an integrated production system, but I question if the same veterinarian-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) can apply to such broadly separated animals under private ownership.

5. If a producer is caring for animals owned by one or more absentee owners, does the caretaker/producer obtain the VFD or does each owner have responsibility for the VFD?
In this example, the caretaker/producer is caring for and treating the animals described on the VFD. The answer from FDA is that the VFD should list the caretaker/producer because that is the party most likely to have the VCPR with the veterinarian writing the VFD.

6. What about VFDs for rabbits or other minor species?
FDA is considering this issue but has yet to offer a final answer on the subject. The consideration includes allowing the use of a similar claim from a comparable species to be written as a VFD for a minor species. That idea carries with it some controversy as it would essentially be allowing Extra Label Drug Use (ELDU), which has always been illegal for feed additive medications.

7. Can a VFD be written for a feed antibiotic (tetracycline) for use to control or treat foot rot or pinkeye?
No. There are no feed additive antibiotics that have a legal use claim for use against foot rot or pinkeye. Chlortetracycline, the most commonly used antibiotic in such instances, only has feed use claims for anaplasmosis, bacterial enteritis, and bacterial pneumonia. Therefore, a VFD written listing the use claim for foot rot or pinkeye would be illegal and not allowed to be filled.

8. Many producers have heard that purchasing product from a valid VFD will have very specific limits concerning the amount of medication per pound or ton of feed with absolutely no overage allowed. Is that true?
According to FDA explanations, no. The use of the term “approximate” in the number of animals listed on the VFD form provides a level of flexibility in the amount of product that can be purchased.  Just as we do today, the VFD and conversations with veterinarians to get it provide an opportunity to discuss the amount of product actually needed and to discourage buying too much. From the perspective of the producer and the veterinarian, over-purchase makes no sense. Over-purchase can be poor management in the sense that you spend money on an excess product that might go out of condition or lose nutritional or medication effectiveness. From the veterinarian perspective, it risks feeding medicated product longer than needed or directed by the VFD and the legal requirement to quit feeding any remaining VFD product on hand after the VFD expires.  

9. There has been some concern from veterinarians and producers about VFDs requiring a specific grams-per-ton figure for the amount of medication allowed by the VFD. Will the gram-per-ton or pound-per-ton be specified on the VFD?
I contend that the VFD should be legal if it properly lists the legally claimed dose for a specific antibiotic in use claim given on the VFD. In most cases, that will be a figure of milligrams per pound of bodyweight or milligram per-head-per-day. That amount can be achieved through many different, legally approved medicated feed products (with varying grams-per-ton formulations). These formulations, when fed at the appropriate level per day, will accomplish the stated dosage stated on the VFD. For this reason, and given the fact that the VFD gives an “approximate” number and size to animals involved, grams-per-ton cannot be accurately and consistently given on a VFD without potentially creating severe restrictions on product choice and availability for the producer.

10. What “teeth” are written into the law? What repercussions will be enforced as the rule is launched?
The “teeth” are potential fines and, more importantly, the ability to designate treated animals as “adulterated” and prevent their sale or movement in the marketplace. But remember, the initial inspection effort will be to gather information about how the process is going and to educate producers and veterinarians.

11. Will VFD documents also be sent to the FDA? Will these VFD documents be subject to Freedom of Information requests?
The answer to both is no.

Kansas State University has a useful catalog of information on the VFD here:

Why cows sort feed

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Nearly all cows sort their feed to some degree. That is why the leftover feed is the larger and unpalatable portions of the feed. Depending on conditions, the amount of sorting varies widely.

The degree and overall effect of sorting on cow performance is worth your attention. To evaluate the level of sorting, look for certain symptoms that indicate feed sorting is a problem.

Watching the cows eat is informative, especially just after feed delivery. In a well-mixed and palatable ration, cows will eat aggressively from the top of the feed pile as soon as it is delivered.

The cow’s head often stays in one spot or moves slightly. Spilling from the cow’s mouth is relatively low, and consumption is rapid. As she progresses, you may see feed falling from her mouth, and eventually, the tell-tale hole burrowed into the feed all the way to the feeding surface. She is nibbling the fines or goodies as they fall into the funnel while leaving the less desirable feeds behind. This also occurs if the cow burrows through the feed, shifting feed concentrates into the hole. When this occurs, the feed in the bunk changes in appearance.

It is easiest to notice if the feed has been in front of the cows for some time and they have selected what they want. Given that cows have a pecking order, the result of feed sorting means different cows get different diets and intake.

Common contributors to ration sorting

  • Particles are too long. The rule of thumb is that if the particles are longer than the width of the cow’s muzzle, she can sort it. Sorting is prevalent with “shredlage” for corn silage and longer chop lengths. Sorting can be more common if the feed left behind is not the favorite part of her diet (lower parts of Sudan stalks or corn cobs). The opposite of this effect is when the cow selects the free-choice long alfalfa hay because she likes it to the exclusion of other feeds in the partial-mixed ration. Both behaviors promote a diet different than intended by the producer. Processing long-stemmed baled hay before putting it in the mixer helps. Understand that using the mixer for this is time-consuming, reduces particle length of other feeds and puts excess wear on it.
  • Lack of initial palatability. Dry diets are less palatable to begin with, and in dry diets, concentrates do not adhere together with the forage base. Cows prefer eating a mixed ration that is 50-66 percent dry matter. Wetter diets in the summer tend to be preferred over drier rations. Rations that are dry hay and dry concentrates (say 90 percent dry matter) respond well to adding moisture such as molasses, syrup or water. Having adequate moisture in the mixed ration will reduce feed sorting.
  • Worn out mixers. Mixers get plenty of hard use, and as they wear, they become less efficient at mixing correctly. Further, some operations will overload their mixer to gain batch size, but they lose the benefits of proper mixing. Highly worn mixers require more mix time, causing particle reduction and less effective mixing action. Check the kick plate on the bottom of vertical augers for wear, and inspect feeds as they discharge from the mixer. Clumps of concentrates or forages in the mixed ration (often seen at the beginning or very end of feed unloading) indicate either too short of mix time or a mixer that isn’t operating correctly. Overloading always reduces mixer efficiency and promotes sortable diets. Overloading is the cause of the majority of improperly mixed rations. Mixers require routine maintenance and should be on a service schedule.

Sorting may become a health and financial issue. Cows that aggressively sort feed do not get a balanced diet. Mostly they get too much concentrate and not enough fiber. This is accompanied by shifts in manure consistency. The cow sorting for grains today is often slightly off feed the next day and sorting for fiber to correct her unhealthy rumen pH. The result is lower milk or components or acute digestive issues.

In a crowded pen, where bunk space may be limited, the aggressive cows sort out the goodies, and the passive cows eat the already-sorted feed. Neither animal meets her target feed requirements.

So you have a new horse...

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Congratulations! It’s your birthday. Or it’s your wife’s birthday. Or you won the auction bidding. And now you own a new horse. Everyone is excited. But the question comes up: “What is the best way to get the new horse on the farm with minimum upsets—hopefully, no upsets at all?”

Many of us have seen horse colic when their feed changes. Thus the first consideration is keeping the horse on the same grain ration. If you intend to change the ration, do it over time. Take 14 days to make the switch after the horse settles into its new accommodations. If the horse has been eating grass hay and MFA Easykeeper 11%, you’ve inherited a good ration. If you don’t know what the horse was consuming, try using MFA Easykeeper as the concentrate.

In general terms, you will want to keep the horse in quarantine for 30 days. It is a common practice for the owner to house the new horse across a sturdy fence from the existing herd. Once the animals acclimate to each other over the fence, add one horse at a time in with the new horse to allow them time to adjust. In time, all of the horses will slowly be introduced, and hopefully, you have no major issues. As far as I know, there is no standard as to how long this acclimation period should be. The time it takes for horses to adapt depends on attitude and disposition to exert dominance.

Consider biosecurity whenever you are traveling to horse shows, auctions or shopping around for a new member of the herd.
I like the USDA definition of biosecurity: “Doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment or vehicles, either accidentally or on purpose.”

USDA publishes some common-sense recommendations for biosecurity; I highlight some here because I think we can all use an occasional reminder about farm hygiene.

  • If you show horses, don’t share trailers. And if your horse ends up in someone else’s trailer, only allow it if the trailer has been cleaned and disinfected. If you can “smell horse” in the empty trailer, it has not been cleaned and sanitized properly.
  • When at events or rides, don’t let your horse touch other horses, especially nose to nose.
  • Don’t share equipment (e.g., water, feed buckets, brushes or sponges).
  • Wash your hands, especially after helping other people with their horses.
  • Don’t let strangers pet your horse, especially those with animals at home or people who have been out of the country in the past two weeks.
  • Before leaving the show grounds, clean and disinfect tack, boots, equipment and grooming supplies. Brush off dirt or manure; then disinfect (spray or wipes are easy to take with you).
  • When you get home, shower, blow your nose and put on clean clothes and shoes before going near other horses.
  • If you’re going to a horse auction, have a pair of shoes or boots that you save for visiting and don’t wear around your horse.
  • Wear plastic shoe covers. Plastic bags from newspapers work well.
  • If you are going to be working with horses on another farm, wear coveralls or plan to change clothes before returning to your horse.
  • If there are farms you visit all the time and you can’t change clothes and shoes, be sure their vaccination program and biosecurity practices are as good as your own.

All of the above is good advice. Keep in mind that bringing new horses onto the farm is the most likely way to introduce diseases. During that 30-day quarantine, don’t mingle feeding buckets, pitchforks or grooming tools between existing horses and the new arrival. You need to work with the new horse daily to acclimate it but consider having a pair of coveralls to either change into or out of before going between pens. Wear a different pair of boots and launder your clothes before wearing them back to the pens.

Just like after shaking hands at church, it’s a good idea to wash your hands before you move between pens.

You can find more detail on biosecurity and horse hygiene at:

From the field

Written by David Yarnell on .

We have seen good results on beef and dairy operations in my area, but a success story I ran across near Seymour, Mo., is worth a note.

After an information meeting last fall, one of my customers—a rabbit producer—began feeding his does Rabbit 16% Shield pellets from MFA. It was a full switch in feeding programs for him, and he has been happy with the results.

Since the switch, he has noticed a 10 to 15 percent boost in pregnancy percentages overall. The producer pulled a group of a dozen does to run a comparison of MFA’s Rabbit 16% Shield pellets to his previous ration.

Here’s what he told me:

  • Does on Rabbit 16% Shield pellets averaged one to two more kits per litter.
  • Kits can be weaned at five weeks of age on Rabbit 16% Shield pellets compared to six weeks on the previous ration.
  • Does on Rabbit 16% produce a litter every six weeks compared to seven weeks on the previous ration.

This producer’s goal has traditionally been to have a fryer ready to sell at 12 weeks of age and weighing 5 pounds. Feeding Rabbit 16% Shield, he has adjusted expectations with the goal of reaching 5 pounds at 10 to 11 weeks. Looking over his weight tickets, I was able to do some quick math.

He gave me several weight tickets where he sold fryers and here are the numbers:

  • On these tickets he sold 347 fryers weighing 1808 pounds, which is an average of 5.21 pounds per fryer at market.
  • With the new price per pound, that 5.21-pound rabbit is worth $8.08.

That means he is getting one or two more kits per litter. For the sake of this argument, let’s say just one. With the previous ration, his does had a litter every seven weeks, which would be 7.45 litters per year. On Rabbit 16% Shield pellets, his does produce a litter every six weeks, which equals 8.69 litters a year. How many more fryers will be available for market? Well, 8.69 litters a year x 1 extra kit per litter = 8.69 x 60 does = 521 more fryers. At the market price of $8.08 as I wrote this, the additional kits would mean an additional $4,210 per year in income.

Shield Technology does require more expensive ingredients and is priced accordingly. However, if you carry the math out, it’s probably worth the investment. This producer buys between 4 and 5 tons of Rabbit 16% Shield pellets a month. It costs about $16 per ton more than MFA 16% without Shield ($768 to $960 per year). So take that extra $4,210 in income and extract $960. That is $3,250 per year in cash or to invest back into the operation.

I continue to look for other Shield Technology success stories. If you want to contact me, write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A nutritional defense against stress

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Cattle suffer various levels of stress depending on what stage of production they are in. Mitigating stress through management and feeding can pay dividends.

At weaning, calves experience a tremendous amount of stress and for a prolonged period. Proper nutrition can help alleviate some of the negative issues related to stress. It is important to understand how stress impacts the animal and how nutrition can help.

Animals subjected to stress have increased blood concentrations of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can compromise the immune system. Specifically, cortisol will decrease T-lymphocyte cells, which are involved in cell-mediated immunity. Cell-mediated immunity is the portion of the immune system responsible for destruction of pathogens. Prolonged stress can reduce the animal’s ability to fight infection.

In order to mount an immune response, energy, protein and certain trace minerals are used, which increases nutrient requirements of the animal. Unfortunately, when calves are under stress, dietary intake is reduced. Research shows that fasting or feed deprivation can increase cortisol release. Therefore, the calf now has two problems: stress has compromised the immune system, and calves are not eating enough to meet the increased nutrient demands of an immune response.

Reduction in dietary intake is well documented in newly received feedlot calves. Upon arrival to the feedlot, intake can be as low as 60 percent of the consumption observed a week later. The National Academies of Sciences 2016 publication, “Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cattle,” suggests mineral concentrations in stressed calves be increased. Essential trace minerals hold an integral role in the immune system, with copper, zinc and selenium being of particular importance.

Copper is involved in the production of antioxidants and serves a role in neutrophil function, which is involved in the killing of pathogens. Although reports on the benefit of additional copper for improving immune function vary, the mere fact that it is necessary for proper function of the immune system warrants consideration when developing mineral programs. Studies show that when dietary copper supply and bodily reserves are low, there is a reduction in the ability of the immune system to kill pathogens. The publication states a non-stressed calf requires a diet that contains 10 parts per million copper. In a stressed calf, copper requirements increase up to 15 ppm.

Copper can be a challenging trace mineral to balance in a diet because of its relationship with iron, molybdenum and sulfur. If these minerals are too high, they can interact with copper and reduce its availability to the animal. For example, when total dietary sulfur intake increases above 0.2 percent, the amount of copper available for the animal decreases by approximately 25 percent. In some parts of the U.S., water sulfur concentration alone can be high enough to cause this reduction.

Zinc is involved in signals that initiate activity of certain cells in the immune system. Zinc requirements for non-stressed calves is 40 ppm and for stressed calves is up to 100 milligrams per kilogram. Some reports demonstrate a benefit from supplemental zinc, and some do not. In most cases, animals suffering from zinc deficiency exhibit positive responses to supplemental zinc. Therefore, calves not consuming adequate amounts of zinc are at a greater risk of becoming sick during periods of stress.

Selenium plays a role in immune function as it contributes to the production of antioxidants in the body and reduces oxidative tissue damage. Dietary selenium inclusion in diets of non-stressed calves is 0.1 ppm and up to 0.2 ppm for stressed calves. There are reports that demonstrate additional benefit of supplemental selenium even above 0.2 ppm. But federal regulations say that the selenium content of a complete feed cannot exceed 0.3 ppm or 3 milligrams per head per day. In animals fed diets deficient in selenium, selenium supplementation improves the immune system’s ability to combat pathogens.

Mineral supplementation programs generally focus on the cow; a good mineral program can positively impact cow and calf performance. In fact, calves generally consume mineral at the same time as the cow. However, their supplemental mineral consumption, as a percent of bodyweight, is approximately 50 percent of that of the cow. Thus, mineral status of calves as they go into the weaning season could be marginal. The associated stress could lower intake, which may exacerbate any mineral deficiencies and increase the risk of illness.


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