Changes in how antibiotics are sold are established and will take effect in about six months. Although some farmers will be impacted more than others, all farmers can prepare for the change ahead.

The primary difference for farmers after the rule change will depend on how they’ve obtained antibiotics in the past. Those who already purchase products from a veterinarian won’t see a lot of changes. Those who purchase antibiotics from farm or feed stores will no longer be able to purchase antibiotics from those outlets, and all mail order antibiotics will require a veterinarian’s prescription.

The rule change is effective June 11, 2023. Many products are already off the shelf due to necessary label changes. The FDA is allowing for stock already within production and distribution chains to be used, and there will be no recalls of unsold products.

Planning ahead will help farmers prepare for the upcoming change. The plan should include a valid veterinary client-patient relationship (VCPR) and a discussion with the farm’s vet about what antibiotics to use so both you and your vet are prepared to use products appropriately and how you will obtain what you need.

Products will be available for purchase from a veterinarian, or your vet can establish a drop ship program with direct delivery to the farm. Mail order with a prescription is another viable solution.

The primary reason for the rule change is antibiotic stewardship, which involves judicious use and minimizing the need for antibiotics. Disease prevention is a major aspect of antibiotic stewardship, and Dr. Hayley Springer, Extension veterinarian and assistant clinical professor, Penn State, has some suggestions.

“This is one way we can take an extra step to be a part of the solution for antibiotic resistance,” she said. “Look at stewardship principles and compare how veterinary medicine and human medicine look at stewardship.”

The American Veterinary Medicine Association is making commitment to stewardship by advocating for disease prevention, selecting and using drugs judiciously, evaluating use practices and educating and building expertise. The CDC’s stewardship principles are similar.

Springer said on the veterinary side, advocating for prevention is huge. “I think it’s one of the best ways to improve our operations from an animal well-being standpoint,” she said. “Also from a production and profitability standpoint.”

Antibiotic stewardship includes having a good biosecurity plan, having a well-designed vaccination program and making sure medication protocols are in place. This enables farmers to be aware of which antibiotics to use for diseases encountered on the farm.

For farmers who haven’t used a veterinarian regularly or at all, Springer suggested preparing for the rule change by asking a vet to come out to establish a VCPR and biosecurity measures. “Work with veterinarian to identify disease risks on the farm,” she said. “Identify risks for bringing in new disease.” She added that for closed herds, disease risk can come from other sources such as boots, clothing and animals that have been exhibited at shows.

“If you show animals and continually bring them back and forth, [disease] risks are different,” said Springer. “Identify risks for spreading disease within the herd – we can help prevent that. Work with your vet to develop a plan to mitigate all of these risks. We can also prevent disease through vaccination.”

Springer said that when working with a veterinarian to build a vaccination protocol, make sure the vet understands when and why you already handle animals throughout the year. “They can help you build more convenient vaccination protocol that fits some of the timing of when you are already working with your animals so we don’t have to handle them another time,” she said. “They can also develop vaccination protocol that is convenient and tailored to operation’s risks.”

Part of a medication protocol includes how to identify disease, whether to move sick animals when disease is identified (hospital area), which products to administer including how much, for how long and by what route. Springer said it’s also important that the medication protocol describes when and how to follow up if the animal is not responding.

Moving sick animals is directly related to preventing disease. Springer cited Cryptosporidium (Crypto) as an example. “It’s a diarrheal disease of young calves and when they have it they shed massive numbers of oocysts – the infective particles of the protozoa – 389 million oocysts can be shed by an infected calf in just the first six days of infection,” she said. “I like to have a protocol to move sick animals whenever possible. If an infected calf excretes almost 400 million oocysts in six days, it means a quarter teaspoon [of infected feces] could infect 4,500 calves. We should try to move sick animals whenever possible if they are not already well-segregated from other animals.”

Crypto is a good reminder of why farmers should be concerned about boots, clothing and other equipment that’s contaminated with manure.

Springer understands some farmers don’t have easy access to a large animal vet. “It’s a challenge in veterinary medicine,” she said. “There are areas with insufficient vets. We have to make sure [farmers] use veterinarians such that we can encourage and support more veterinarians in our community and through building preventatives into how we interact with veterinarians. They can then build their business and potentially bring in more veterinarians.”

There are federal programs in place to assist with the lack of large animal veterinarians. “The USDA funds a veterinary medical loan repayment program that helps bring veterinarians to communities where there is a need for veterinary care,” said Springer. “It’s something the vet community is thinking about a lot and aware it’s something to work through.”

Springer encouraged farmers to use veterinarians as much as possible to help build their business and help bring in new vets.

“We are working to improve veterinary access through encouraging vets to practice in high-need areas with programs like the veterinary medical loan repayment program,” said Springer. “There are some areas where [access] could be a challenge but we’ve also seen a number of new veterinarians pick up areas that were previously poorly served.”

For small operations, having a veterinarian visit the farm is a big expense. Springer emphasized the importance of considering what the vet can do for the operation. “By building that relationship, you also have a better, more reliable way to call for help when you do have a problem,” she said. “The vet can help build programs to prevent disease, which will help reduce veterinary expenses and improve production.”

by Sally Colby