What is the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) and What Does it Mean for You, the Backyard Chicken Keeper?


Big changes are coming on January 1, 2017 regarding how certain medications are going to be dispensed for chickens. Basically, the Veterinary Feed Directive will put a stop to over-the-counter sales of many of the antibiotics used for poultry and other livestock. In order to purchase medications that are currently on your feed store shelves, you will now need a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. That's it in a nutshell, but there's lots more information here on the USDA site.

Which Medications are Included?

The directive will affect sales of two of the more common medications given to chickens, Sulmet and Tylan, but includes a wide array of others currently on the market. Click HERE for a complete list. Medicated chick feed which does include amprolium will not be affected however and will still be available for sale at feed stores. (Note: I don't feed my baby chicks medicated feed, but I know many of you do. It's a personal choice.)

While this new feed directive will pose a problems for many, both logistically and monetarily, since it's often difficult to even find a poultry vet, much less justify or find the money to pay for an office visit, I am in favor of this directive for the most part. Like antibiotic use in humans, in many cases antibiotics are being overused and abused in the animal world as well.  This directive will ensure that medications are only given after a proper diagnosis has been made.

I can't tell you how many email I get to this effect: "One of my chickens doesn't look right, so I gave all my girls a round of antibiotics." or "I have a limping chicken. I gave her antibiotics. What else can I do?" Randomly treating your chickens like this leads to the body's gradual resistance to the antibiotics and the creation of so-called "super bugs", making the medications less effective when they really ARE needed.  
Not to mention that a big reason we all raise chickens is to eat healthier - and medicating the chickens that lay the eggs your family eats is hardly healthy. Some of the medications currently available over the counter have indefinite withdrawal periods - meaning that if you dose your chickens with them, you should never eat their eggs again!

What Can/Should You Do to Prepare?

I'm happy to say that the new feed directive won't affect me much at all - and shouldn't effect most of you who have been following my advice over the years. I have never used commercial medications on my flock. Instead, I have always focused on lots of natural supplements to keep my girls' immune systems as strong as possible so they are better able to fight off anything they come in contact with on their own. So far, so good (knock on wood). No illness or anything that would require the use of antibiotics or other medications.
Now, more than ever, it will be so important to keep your flock healthy. Feeding your chickens a good-quality chicken feed is the first step to provide them a well-balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals they need. But that's just the first step.

Plenty of fresh air, a clean coop and run area, fresh water and exercise will all become even more important. Locate a poultry veterinarian now, before you need one, is also a good idea. Jot your chicken vet's phone number and address down and keep it handy in your chicken first aid kit or posted on the fridge.

However, even the best-quality feed doesn't necessarily include immune-system boosting ingredients, so I also recommend adding the following supplements to your chickens' daily feed. Instructions are on the packaging for most of these products, but normally a 1-2% ratio to feed is recommended. 

Health Boosting Supplements

- Probiotic powder for optimal digestive health and protection against coccidiosis (more details)
- Sea kelp for added vitamins, trace minerals and helps the probiotics work better (more details)
- Garlic powder for immune system and respiratory system health (more details)
- Oregano/cinnamon as a natural antibiotic, already being used by commercial poultry farms (more details)
- Thyme as a natural antibiotic,  already being used by commercial poultry farms (more details)

And of course adding a splash of Apple cider vinegar to their water a few times a week (1 Tablespoon per gallon) is another great way to boost immune and respiratory system health. (more details)

Keeping your chickens healthy naturally has never been more important. This directive will ensure that antibiotics are only given if, and when, needed. The rest is going to be up to us - to provide our flocks the healthiest diet and environment we can.  So grow some herbs and start mixing in some healthy supplements!

Warm oatmeal with fresh garlic, thyme and a sprinkle of cinnamon
makes a healthy, immune-system boosting treat that your chickens will love
Buying sources:
Probiotic Powder
Garlic Powder
Sea Kelp

Further reading:
http://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/feed-health/how-the-veterinary-feed-directive-will-affect-chicken-poultry-owners/
http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/ucm482106.htm
http://info.mannapro.com/homestead/antibioticsinanimalfeed
https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Pages/VFD123.aspx
http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/ucm071807.htm
http://www.farad.org/regulatory/vfd.asp
https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Pages/VFD123.aspx

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