In order for Michelle Sprague to pinpoint what might be ailing pigs on a client’s farm, she must first know how the pigs are cared for, what the environment is for the pigs, and what signs or symptoms sick pigs might be showing.

A close working relationship between a farmer and his or her veterinarian is important not only for the health of a farmer’s animals, but for food safety, experts say.

Over several years, Sprague, a veterinarian with the Audubon Manning Veterinary Clinic (AMVC) Management Services in Audubon, has developed successful veterinary-client patient relationships (VCPR) with her clients—and their livestock.

“A vet-client-patient relationship, or VCPR, is a relationship that a veterinarian has with a farmer and the animals. So it means that the veterinarian frequently sees the animals, is acquainted with the herd, understands the background of the animals and knows the disease challenges it may face. And it also includes that the client agrees to follow directions from the veterinarian and that the veterinarian be available for follow-up care should any be necessary,” Sprague said.

A VCPR also means that a veterinarian is familiar with a farmer’s background and buying habits to foresee what health issues might pop up, says Mitch Hiscocks, a veterinarian at the Carroll Veterinary Clinic in Carroll.

“Knowing their personality and how they feed and what their feedlot looks like, you kind of know what might crop up,” he said.

Veterinarians say the VCPR will play an even greater role not only for their clients in the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) expanded rules regarding the use of medically-important antibiotics.

“It’s going to create a lot more paperwork and documentation, and that might be a good thing,” Hiscocks said.

Previously, Hiscocks said farmers could call him and ask for suggestions in treating a sick animal. With a strong VCPR in place, Hiscocks could offer help over the phone. After the full implementation of the expanded veterinary feed directive (VFD) however, that will be limited.

 “If we know you, your setup, we might make a suggestion and you can go wherever and get it (the medication) and mix it or order it from a feed mill. But with this directive in place, we’ll be on the farm more,” he said. “It’s (the VFD) going to formalize our recommendations. Now there will be a paper trail.”

Some consumers might wonder if the expanded VFD will fully be implemented, or if this is simply a wink-and-a-nod type situation and the use of medically-important antibiotics will continue to be used in food animals. Veterinarians say this expanded VFD rule and the accompanying guidance documents now already in place are serious and compliance will be mandatory.

“If I’m going to sign my name to something and say that it’s necessary, that’s pretty legitimate. I have a veterinary license on the line,” Sprague said.

Hiscocks echoed Sprague’s sentiment.

“These are federal regulations, and we don’t mess with federal regulations. This isn’t just some local group telling us this is a good idea, this is the federal government. It’s the right thing to do, anyway,” he said.

The full implementation of the expanded veterinary feed directive goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. The directive expands an existing rule to include more medically-important antibiotics. Veterinarians say farmers should make themselves more aware of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Guidance 209 which applies to medicated feed and water. The FDA’s Guidance 213 has been implemented, and removes growth promotion claims on medicated feed. Farmers should talk to their veterinarian to ensure the veterinarian is comfortable writing VFDs for their farm.