January’s a time for New Year’s Resolutions and new starts. For backyard poultry owners in the United States, January 2017 was a new start in the way we medicate and treat our flocks as the Veterinary Feed Directive from the Food and Drug Administration took effect.
In a nutshell, the Veterinary Feed Directive ended over-the-counter sales of medically important antimicrobial drugs that are to be used for livestock in feed or water. Water-soluble antibiotics now require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian that has an established veterinary-client-patient-relationship with the poultry owner. Antimicrobials that are added to feed now require a Veterinary Feed Directive which is a written document that allows for the purchase of the antimicrobial and directs the use of it.
That’s a lot to take in at once and it can seem confusing, so let’s break it down.
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Why is the Veterinary Feed Directive Needed?
The Veterinary Feed Directive is meant to stop the use of medically important antibiotics for performance, growth and weight gain in food-producing animals. The directive restricts antibiotic use, allowing it only for preventing and treating disease.
“However, FDA believes that some indications for prevention use are necessary and judicious as long as such use includes professional veterinary involvement… Another example would be the prevention of necrotic enteritis in broiler chickens. In this case, the prevention use of an antimicrobial is important to manage this disease in certain flocks in the face of concurrent coccidiosis, a significant parasitic disease in chickens. On the other hand, FDA would not consider the administration of a drug to apparently healthy animals in the absence of any information that such animals were at risk of a specific disease to be a judicious use.” – Veterinary Feed Directive Guidance Document #209
There has long been concern that antibiotic use in food-producing animals contributes to drug resistance in humans. This is an effort to curb the increasing problem of drug-resistant bacteria and help keep medically important drugs effective into the future.
What Does this Really Mean?
The Veterinary Feed Directive sounds so technical and governmental that most people that own backyard chickens and poultry don’t think this applies to them. But it does. While many people are raising chickens for eggs or for meat, others keep them just as pets. Under the directive, there is no distinction. It applies to all people who own livestock regardless of the end use for their birds.
For backyard poultry owners, the biggest impact of the Veterinary Feed Directive is that they will need to establish a relationship with a licensed veterinarian. This can be hard for poultry owners since many veterinarians don’t treat livestock. A good place to start a veterinarian search is by contacting your local extension service. Many times they are aware of licensed veterinarians in the area that do treat livestock. A helpful tip when searching is to look for local veterinarians that will treat pet birds like parrots. Many of the common chicken maladies like bumblefoot and worms are also present in pet birds. So you may have luck finding a veterinarian that treats pet birds that will also treat your chickens. Regardless of the Veterinary Feed Directive, it’s always good to have a veterinarian that you can consult if the need arises. And it’s good to have a well-stocked emergency kit on hand for temporary care until you can reach a veterinarian or for incidents that you can treat from home.
What Drugs are Affected?
For those wondering what to feed chickens, especially baby chicks in the brooder, the Veterinary Feed Directive does not affect medicated chick starter feeds. These feeds contain a coccidiostat that reduces the chances of Coccidiosis in growing chickens that do not have a fully developed immune system. Amprolium is a common coccidiostat and it’s not an antibiotic. Also not affected by the Veterinary Feed Directive are bacitracin and the dewormer, piperazine.
|Common Drugs Not Affected by Veterinary Feed Directive||Drugs That Now Require a Veterinary Feed Directive|
|Amprolium (Coccidiostat in Medicated Chick Starter Feed||Hygromycin B|
If you regularly worm your chickens with dewormers or visit the feed store for water-soluble antibiotics, then the Veterinary Feed Directive will have more of an impact. Prevention is really the key to lessening your need to follow the Veterinary Feed Directive. Make sure your chickens stay healthy by keeping a clean coop and nest boxes with proper ventilation and nest bars. Provide clean food and water daily. And make sure your chickens get outside each day for some fresh air, and hopefully, some free range time. It’s also important to give your flock a once-over each day. Know what’s normal for your flock. That way you’re more likely to notice if something is wrong and you can treat it early.
Do you regularly use antibiotics for your flock? Do you have a veterinarian that can treat your chickens and poultry? Let us know in the comments below.