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Iowa Select veterinarian taking a more targeted approach with antibiotics

Iowa Select Farms’ targeted approach to antibiotic use within its production system began well before the FDA’s expanded veterinary feed directive (VFD) rule.   

“We don’t feed any antibiotics after the nursery phase, and that had been our approach prior to the new VFD rule,” said Pete Thomas, DVM, director of health services at Iowa Select Farms.  

However, one change has been the amount of documentation tied to all medication use. Another is a continuous evaluation of health and diagnostics to best match the medication or treatment to a specific issue. 

This starts with each of Iowa Select’s five veterinarians visiting a nursery site within the first week or so of receiving a new group of pigs. They also visit sow farms at least every 2 months. To further zero-in on health challenges, the veterinarians conduct autopsies on pigs that have died and submit samples to state diagnostic laboratories as well as the company’s own internal lab. 

“This gives a good idea of the disease patterns within a population or site,” Thomas said. “It also tells us which diseases are common within the area that we might encounter during the grow-out period.”  

The veterinarians can then tailor a medication or vaccination program to address certain viruses or bacteria. “Our No. 1 focus is on disease prevention,” he added. “But when we need to treat, it’s good to know specifically what we need to do.” 

Injectable antibiotics are valuable tools to not only treat individual pigs but also, at times, to control disease within a population, Thomas said.  One such example involved a group of pigs 3 weeks post-weaning, facing an E. coli challenge. The Iowa Select veterinarians implemented an injectable antibiotics program for individual affected pigs as well as a water medication to keep the rest of the pigs healthy.   

On the prevention side, Thomas pointed to the company’s investment in filtration systems for its sow farms, which keeps viruses that spread via aerosol from entering their barns. “This keeps our sows healthy, which keeps our herds healthy and prevents new diseases from getting into those herds,” he said. “So, it’s allowed us to reduce our medication use and keep pigs healthier and more productive.” 

These are the kinds of steps that can help ensure that a range of treatments continue to be available to producers and veterinarians.  Thomas acknowledged that this more targeted approach to antibiotic use and health management isn’t exclusive to Iowa Select. 

“There’s been a significant evolution in how producers use antibiotics,” he added. “Producers realize that you have a responsibility to use medications judiciously.” 

Posted on April 12, 2018

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Water doesn’t get the attention it deserves because it is abundant, easy to access and inexpensive, but that will change in the future, said John Patience, PhD, professor at Iowa State University.

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