HELP YOUR CUSTOMERS UNDERSTAND THE NEW PRODUCTS AND PRACTICES THAT ARE CHANGING THE FOOD ANIMAL INDUSTRY
The first months of 2017 have already ushered in significant changes in the livestock industry. The veterinary feed directive (VFD) that took effect on January 1, more mergers, a new administration and a new Secretary of Agriculture will all impact the industry in ways that are still to be determined. The USDA’s Supply & Demand Report projected across-the-board increases in livestock, poultry, egg and dairy production this year – great news for everyone in the animal health industry. The report shows that the cattle industry is projected to expand rapidly, with herd expansion and rebuilding continuing for the next two to three years – thanks to improved pasture and hay conditions and significant cuts in feed costs. This will provide an excellent opportunity for growth for large animal veterinarians and their suppliers.
A new era
The impact of consumer concerns about antibiotic resistance will create an increasing demand in value-added markets like organic, natural, grass-fed and ethically-raised animal products. The VFD is the first major step toward this trend. The rule requires producers to take more steps, which includes having an established veterinary-client relationship in order to obtain a prescription or authorization to administer antibiotics in feed. Specifically, the regulation restricts livestock usage for the types of antibiotics that are critical for use in human medicine, known as “medically important” antibiotics.
There is a learning curve for everyone with the changes due to the VFD, and your knowledge of the new regulations will be a real asset to your customers and their producers – particularly those who may have put off adjusting their long-established protocols. A study conducted late last year by Brakke Consulting, Inc., called New Strategies for Health and Performance in US Livestock and Poultry Production, found that late in 2016, only half of producers said they had already made changes to their operations. The beef sector was the least prepared, with just 29 percent of veterinarians, producers and nutritionists reporting that they and/or their clients had implemented changes.
The Brakke study found that vaccine protocols and improved sanitation and biosecurity were the top two management strategies for 70 percent or more of all producers in response to the mandates for more judicious use of antibiotics. The most common change to feed additives to replace direct-fed antibiotics is an increased use of direct-fed microbials – or probiotics.
The fact that over 80 percent of beef producers plan a change to their vaccine protocols provides an excellent opportunity for discussion and review of the vaccines you carry and the programs and promotions that go with them. With the recent manufacturer mergers, make sure your vaccine charts are up-to-date, know the comparables to the product lines you carry, and be ready to make recommendations that will help your customers maximize profits based on their purchase history and projected growth.
Cross-selling and up-selling
The same holds true for the sanitation-related products your company offers. It will be worth your time to put together a detailed piece to provide to your clients with a variety of items that target disease prevention, including disinfectants, hand wash, foot baths, shoe and boot covers, masks, disposable coveralls, sprayers and brushes. A chart listing the disinfectants you carry that includes label information such as their active ingredients, the range of microorganisms they target, and methods of application will be valuable to you and your customers. This extra effort will not only build awareness of the range of items you offer, but provide a great reference to keep handy for cross-selling and upselling opportunities.
Probiotics and prebiotics have been available for years, and with the widespread concern about the potential impact of the loss of direct-fed antibiotics, their use will continue to expand. Adding these products to animal feeds has been shown to benefit digestion, increase feed efficiency, reduce pathogens, balance pH, and boost the immune system. In cattle, the microbial population of the rumen needs to be healthy and in balance for the proper digestion of feed and the overall health of the animal. Probiotics contain living microorganisms – “good” bacteria or yeasts – that crowd out bad bacteria so they are unable to cause disease in the host animal. Prebiotics are nondigestible sugars that play a beneficial role by aiding “good” microbes already in the gut. A healthy gut allows cattle to fight disease easier without the use of antibiotics. With so many prebiotics and probiotics on the market, knowing the specific benefits of those you sell will give you an advantage in discussing their value with your customers.
The food animal industry continues to develop products and practices that are able to benefit animal health and production, while building public trust in the quality and wholesomeness of the meat, eggs and dairy products they consume. Many consumers closely follow the tools and management practices used by the industry, and are particularly concerned with antibiotic use. The changes to production methods resulting from the implementation of the VFD can go a long way in building public confidence in the safety of their food supply. While completely antibiotic-free production protocols are unlikely for many producers, reduction of antibiotic use is a realistic goal for all. Your efforts to support your large animal practitioners by providing them with information on the many options that support disease prevention and help to maintain production and profit levels is a valuable asset to your clinics and their producers.
Dawn Singleton-Olson has more than 25 years of experience in the animal health industry, including distributor sales, manufacturing, practice management and as a zoo supervisor. She is a volunteer, fundraiser and board trustee for several humane organizations and the Omaha (Neb.) Police Mounted Patrol.