Antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals are among the most regulated products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And rightly so, as they do an incredible job of holding bacteria at bay while immune systems mount a response. That's also the reason the FDA requires a medical professional to write prescriptions on the human side and to have a relationship with a veterinarian when working with animals. Unfortunately, some data indicates we, as dairy producers, are all not doing our part to work closely with our veterinary professionals.

In FDA jargon, the official term for the ongoing relationship between the farm manager and veterinarian is called the Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship or VCPR. Not having a VCPR isn't an option when antibiotics enter the treatment equation. It's the reason pharmaceuticals have a label indicating the veterinarian who signed off on administering the product. If off-label use is prescribed, the importance of that signature takes on even greater importance.

The VCPR represents so much more than a signature - it involves an open communication channel. Everyone who milks cows should have an active relationship with a veterinarian. While many of us think that would be a given, only 82 percent of producers enrolled in the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management or FARM program indicated they have a valid VCPR. We must do better.

To have a functioning VCPR, your veterinarian should be active in your operation. This involves physically walking the dairy, observing cattle and advising farm staff. That partnership should also include reviewing protocols on an annual basis. That's the minimum requirement. When well-designed protocols begin to operate on autopilot, that raises the chances of having a drug residue violation. At that point, FDA will come knocking and that's when you will need your VCPR the most.

There's another layer to this onion. As our farms have grown in size, some of us work with a wide array of veterinarians. However, only one person can be the lead veterinarian, the veterinarian of record. To clarify this role, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners had a committee revise the guiding principles to determine a farm's veterinarian of record in November.

Veterinarians are among the most valuable team members on our operations. More importantly, they are medical professionals who deliver critical advice on administering antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. Working with veterinarians is not only good business sense, it's the law.

This article appears on page 12 of the January 10, 2014 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.