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The VCPR: What it means and why it is important

Katie Mrdutt, Jon Garber and Jennifer Walker for Progressive Dairyman Published on 05 August 2016
Dairy farm owners and veterinarians should build an agreement

Jan. 1, 2017, will bring about two big changes for the dairy industry. First, the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) will go into effect, requiring a VFD from a licensed veterinarian for all medically important antibiotics administered in feed.

Second, the FARM program Version 3.0, starting Jan. 1, will require that every producer and their veterinarian of record have a signed veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) agreement which is signed annually. Both of these changes highlight the importance of a VCPR.

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What is a VCPR?

The term VCPR is derived from federal legislation, called the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA), which specifies the conditions a veterinarian must consider before using or recommending drugs in an extra-label manner.

Beyond all of the legal stuff though, the VCPR is a relationship representing how dairy producers and veterinarians work together to ensure the health and welfare of cattle. Emphasizing the importance of this relationship, dairy farm owners and veterinarians should build a customized agreement that specifically reflects the nature of how they work and communicate with each other.

Beyond the signed agreement, the veterinarian of record and the farm owner should develop a customized list of drugs specific to the farm, implement treatment protocols for farm-specific conditions, work together to train farm personnel how to handle/administer drugs through standard operating procedures, and implement and monitor recording plans that capture data that is useful to farm management (and complies with federal/state regulations).

Through regular veterinary oversight, the value for the farm owner is built on risk management and identification of ways to improve treatment outcome.

Why is having a valid VCPR important?

Veterinarians and farm owners are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring animal health and care on dairy farms. This close working relationship provides the foundation for any herd health plan, focused on maximizing the health and welfare of the animals in our care.

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Verification of this relationship ensures to the consuming public and regulatory agencies that animal care is of utmost importance.

Beyond the prescription pad

Veterinarians, with their extensive training in animal health, are an invaluable team member for all dairy operations. They may routinely provide traditional services, like managing sick animals, performing reproductive examinations or attending to emergency situations, but veterinarians also play a critical role in maintaining the health of the entire dairy herd.

Many veterinarians offer a range of additional services that add value or save costs for the dairy operation.

Examples include implementing and maintaining herd health protocols/standard operating procedures, milk quality troubleshooting, records analysis, nutrition consulting, employee training and many others. Regardless of the veterinary services used, farm owners and veterinarians work best together when expectations for each are clearly defined and there is good communication.

Besides routine technical work and the other value-added services mentioned previously, it is important for dairy farmers to use veterinarians to help protect their operations from risk. All business owners are forced to confront risk, and farmers are no different.

Considering the multi-faceted nature of owning and operating a dairy business, many different types of risk must be managed to protect the long-term viability of dairy farms. Crop insurance and milk price contracts are commonly employed to manage two prominent areas of risk.

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Veterinarians are also well equipped to help farm owners manage risk. Protection against disease outbreaks or death loss are likely to be the first areas to come to mind, and building and implementing a herd health plan with a veterinarian will safeguard against infectious and metabolic diseases.

Furthermore, veterinarians are the best equipped to manage the risk of using medications to treat animals on the farm.

These products are very important for restoring and maintaining animal health, but their use also exposes the farm business to risk. Numerous regulations restrict the use of medications on farms, and veterinarians are experts on how to use medications safely and effectively. Additionally, veterinarians can help farms write treatment protocols that protect against residue violations or other food safety risks.

Food Armor is one program farm owners and veterinarians may want to consider getting involved in for assistance in developing a VCPR. This program is a tool that provides them with a structured way to implement and maintain a plan that avoids these risks.

Communication is key

Communication strategies may vary greatly depending on the individuals involved, but consider a few key points that are helpful regardless. First, a signed, written agreement that defines the VCPR is very important because it puts in writing what the veterinarian and farm owner are each responsible for.

The agreement should clearly specify what the farm owner expects from the veterinarian and, conversely, what the veterinarian expects of the farm owner. For instance, a farm owner might expect that the veterinarian routinely spends time in the fresh pen working with the employees that monitor and treat these cows.

Conversely, the veterinarian who provides prescription medications to the farm should expect that drugs are used according to their directions and that accurate treatment records are maintained. These records allow the veterinarian to oversee the use of medications provided in his or her name.

Second, it is helpful for the farm owner and veterinarian to have a written communication plan to ensure that each person has the information he or she needs to make the best decision for the animal and the dairy.

This customized plan should specify how changes to the farm’s herd health plan will be communicated to all members of the team and how routine communication between team members will occur. The plan may also address team meetings, including meeting frequency, scheduling and purpose.

As a dairy industry we have the awesome responsibility of providing quality dairy products to our consumers. Maintaining a high level of animal care while continuing to grow consumer confidence is a goal we should never stop striving for.  PD

PHOTO: Dairy farm owners and veterinarians should build a customized agreement that specifically reflects the nature of how they work and communicate with each other. Staff photo.

Jon Garber, VMD, is with Valley Veterinary Clinic S.C. in Seymour, Wisconsin. Jennifer Walker, DVM, is director of dairy stewardship at Dean Foods.

Katie Mrdutt is with the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association. Email Katie Mrdutt.

 

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