Charlie Francisco, DVM, and Alex Hintz, DVM, represent two generations of veterinarians exposed to swine disease diagnosis, treatment, prevention and regulation in commercial swine operations. Advances in technology and education have paved the way for faster disease diagnosis and more precise treatment in recent years than when Francisco graduated 30 years ago.
Despite their different training and experience, the two have a common opinion about the use of antibiotics for treating livestock: We, as an industry, must keep doing the right thing with antibiotics so we can keep doing the right thing for our animals.
“If we lose the ability to treat or prevent, animal health and welfare is not going to be where it needs to be,” Dr. Hintz says.
“We at Pharmgate are a consistent supplier of very useful antibiotics, says Dr. Francisco. “We want to continue to supply veterinarians and producers with these products, so it is incumbent upon us to do so judiciously and to continue to work toward new developments.”
Read on for more insights from Dr. Francisco and Dr. Hintz in this Q&A about the state of antibiotic use in pork production.
Question: What does it mean to you to use antibiotics judiciously?
Dr. Hintz: For some reason, the word “judicious” has taken on a negative connotation. I like to replace it with “responsible,” a concept that’s easier to understand. It means we identify the bug correctly, and then choose the correct response and the correct dosage for the correct duration.
Dr. Francisco: Our motto in the early days of my career was to be “quick, clean and kind.” That is still a good way to describe how we want to work. By choosing the correct treatment for the challenge and ensuring animals get the correct therapeutic dose, we are using antibiotics judiciously. We are being “quick, clean and kind,” and that’s about as good as we can get.
Question: How do pork producers benefit from the judicious use of antibiotics?
Dr. Hintz: When treatment is directed correctly, producers will have healthier animals that will get to market quicker. Using the correct treatment early can result in needing fewer treatments later on. It also helps maintain the high level of welfare we want for our animals and that consumers want to see.
Question: How can a producer or practitioner find the best value in antibiotic treatments in the face of down market and high risk of respiratory disease?
Dr. Francisco: Know what’s out there and embrace a protocol that lets you determine on a case-by-case basis if you need to treat individual pigs or shift to mass treatment.
When used correctly, mass medication is certainly a judicious use of antibiotics. Here are a few factors to consider as part of your protocol.
- Know the “breaking point” for your system, the point at which mass treatment makes the most sense. Are 10% of the pigs showing clinical signs before I pull the trigger? 20%? 25%?
- How severe was the primary agent that opened the door to a microbial attack?
- Are the environmental factors right? Are your ventilation, nutrition, vaccination and care protocols designed for optimal pig comfort?
Above all, always follow veterinary and label directions. We must not overdose, and we must not stop treatment too soon because sub-therapeutic drug levels can lead to relapse or drug resistance.
Question: What is a challenge VFD has addressed?
Dr. Francisco: One improvement I have seen is a reduction in the way practitioners and producers reach for antibiotics to treat what was once described as a habitual problem at an operation. Previously, they were prepared for pigs to break like clockwork with a specific respiratory disease, and they would expect that same threat to impact every group in a facility.
Now that the VFD has forced us to change, I’m hearing people say, “My problem isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
Question: How has the pork industry adapted to make the VFD work optimally?
Dr. Hintz: We’ve seen an increase in delivering medications through water versus through feed. Using a water medicator allows us to dose more precisely, and it allows for more flexibility in the way veterinarians can prescribe. If changes need to be made, they can be made quickly. When we use antibiotics as precisely as possible, we show by our actions we are stewards of antibiotic use and the environment. We can provide safe food while also doing the right thing for our animals.