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The Food and Drug Administration’s revised rules for antibiotic use in hogs, including the veterinary feed directive (VFD), has led to a reduction in and more strategic use of antibiotics in swine.
But getting to this point required trial and error to determine what was and wasn’t needed, according to Mike Eisenmenger, DVM, Swine Veterinary Center.
Pulled many antibiotics
Eisenmenger and his clients decided to use the new VFD rules as an opportunity to figure out exactly what antibiotics are needed. They removed most antibiotics including those used in nursery feed, routine sow pulses and injectables at farrowing.
“What we found was both good and bad,” he admitted. “Some of those antibiotics were truly needed.”
One example is in the farrowing house where they stopped giving antibiotic injections during processing.
“Over the next 6 months to a year, we noticed in a lot of the systems that preweaning mortality was going up,” Eisenmenger said. “When we went back and explored the reasons, there were a lot of joint infections occurring around the time of those surgical procedures.
“Just like humans going through a surgical procedure, it is appropriate to have some antibiotics on board,” he explained. “We’ve gone back to placing antibiotics at the time of surgical procedures in farrowing.”
Antibiotics used strategically
When the VFD was first announced, Eisenmenger admitted he was concerned. “Am I going to be a veterinarian that’s just signing a bunch of paperwork?” he asked.
“But this was good for us. It made us stop and reflect on all the programs that we’re doing and [understand] which ones were really needed.”
Antibiotics are now used more strategically. In very healthy pig flows, antibiotics are not used. But if mortality starts to creep up or a minor welfare issue arises, antibiotics are introduced.
These decisions are made with clients during quarterly meetings where they review all feed-grade antibiotic programs and other antibiotic needs.
Preserve a precious resource
“We’ve learned that antibiotics are still extremely important to pig health,” Eisenmenger said. “Our job is to take what I would say is a precious resource…and do our best to use it most appropriately.”
Right now, he is not supportive of antibiotic-free hog production, especially with current disease challenges in the hog industry. “I’m hoping we are not forced to go to that direction,” he said.
“We want to preserve the right to use antibiotics, and if we do it in a responsible way, which I think we are under the VFD prescription process, it’s something that can continue in the future,” he added.