June 2016
Feeding Facts

All Is Not Lost

I have noticed, as I age, time does seem to pass more rapidly. Events seem to come and go with increasing speed. One such event that seems to be marching toward us with increasing momentum is the Veterinary Feed Directive, the act removing the use of humanly important antibiotics in the food chain. Well, it doesn’t entirely remove them, but ensures they are used more judiciously.

As I have formulated rations over the years, I have witnessed in some operations some antibiotics not used in the most judicious fashion. They had become a crutch and producers had replaced good management practices with the overuse of antibiotics. You need to understand that these important antibiotics haven’t been taken from us; they will just be regulated more closely to ensure they are used properly. This new law is very important to the Food and Drug Administration and Congress because they feel it will significantly decrease the growing number of bacteria that are becoming more resistant to these antibiotics.

I strongly encourage all livestock producers to develop a strong relationship with a qualified veterinarian. This veterinarian needs to have a complete working knowledge of the VFD law. The veterinarian will be your key – and only key – to using these medically important antibiotics in your operation. Therefore, these antibiotics can still be used, but their use will be monitored by the veterinarian.

Many producers view these changes as negatively impacting them. However, it could improve the efficiency and profitability of their operation. But, we don’t need to forget that some antibiotics medically important to livestock producers will be unaffected. One such class is ionophores. Ionophores are critically important to several species of livestock that are fed to be meat products for human consumption.

These antibiotics are most commonly used in poultry, cattle, small ruminant and rabbit production. They are important in controlling unwanted bacteria in the digestive tracts of these species. The control of these bacteria aids in improving growth and feed efficiency. These drugs are very useful in controlling coccidiosis. These bacteria can be very detrimental to performance and even cause death if left untreated.

Ionophores in cattle production tend to improve feed efficiency by as much as 10 percent. This improvement is also associated with growth improvement by about 5 percent. This, along with coccidiosis control, makes these antibiotics important in cattle production. In cattle, the ionophores shift volatile fatty acid production so that more proprionic acid is produced. Proprionic acid is the most energy-laden of the volatile fatty acids produced by the bacteria present in the rumen. Therefore, this shift in VFA production leads to more efficient growth.

In monogastrics, ionophores are primarily used for the control of coccidiosis. In these species, coccidiosis can be very detrimental to efficient production. Heavy coccidiosis infestations can also cause higher morbidity and mortality in these species.

Ionophores are primarily administered in the feed in monogastrics, but can be also be administered in minerals or in high- or low-moisture tubs to ruminants. Ionophores are especially toxic to horses, so if you decide to use an ionophore be sure to not allow any equine access to these products.

The industry is worried about the implementation of the VFD law because many people think it will prohibit them from using antibiotics. In reality, this law only touches those medically important for humans. In fact, we in animal agriculture still have access to those antibiotics; we will just be required to use them more judiciously.

As you make decisions concerning the feeding options in your operation, consider using one of these antibiotics to help improve the growth and efficiency of your livestock. In addition to improving growth, these antibiotics also improve the overall digestive health of your animals. As always, read the feed labels and only feed these products as directed. I encourage you to use every option available to ensure the profitability of your operation.

Stephen Donaldson is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If I can help any of you, please get in touch with me and let’s succeed together. You can reach me at 256-476-5272 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..