Thursday, October 1, 2015

To treat or not to Treat . . .

To Treat or not to Treat . . .

When caring for cattle at our feedyard, 4+ Feeders, we listen carefully to what the consumers of beef want from the product we raise.  There have been major discussions and concerns around the topic of antibiotic use in cattle.  The issue of antibiotic use is controversial and complex.

Although ideally it would be grand if cattle never became sick and the issue of using antibiotics did not exist.  However life is not ideal and cattle do get sick.

The protocols for treating sick cattle at 4+ Feeders include:

1.       The prediction of sick cattle.  If we can predict which cattle were to get sick before they feel bad and production were to be lost that would again be ideal.  Unfortunately like with humans it is difficult to know when cattle are getting sick.  In a feedyard setting it is unique because we are a mingling spot for cattle.  It is much like a school.  We welcome cattle from all over the country to our Nebraska Feedyard because it is a prime location to feed cattle to feed you. Our feedyard is near one of the world’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer.  This provides the number one nutrient cattle need, clean fresh water all day long.  Nebraska also has an abundance of corn, cattle like corn and corn helps produce the marbling you enjoy in your steaks. Because we have created a mingling spot for cattle we have also created a mingling spot for bacteria.  Bacteria that causes illness.  As a mom you automatically think we could kill this bacteria if we clean.  However we know cattle enjoy laying on dirt rather than concrete, therefore we are unable to clean their home.  However we can clean their waterers and we do.

2.       Finding the sick ones.  Everyday Jake or our team ride every pen and look at every animal.  We make an effort to look at every eye, every hoof and every tail.  Like a mom or teacher at school looks in the eyes of a child, you can just tell if they are sick.  We look for signs like, not eating, head hanging low, sick eyes, isolation, and snotty noses.  These cattle are then pulled from the pen and taken to the on sight vet hospital to have their temperature taken and be treated if necessary. These cattle are also tagged with a sick tag with the date they are treated and what they were treated with.  This allows the cowboy or Jake to know tomorrow that they have been treated and they need to be watched.  With cattle antibiotics we have to wait a few days depending on the drug to see if it will work before treating again.  The record system through the computer and tag helps to track the animal and it's treatments. Feedyards use different methods of record keeping but all have a system to track treatments.  4+ Feeders then takes the animal back to their home pen where they are familiar with the other animals and the pen.  This differs from yard to yard.  Some yards have a hospital pen.  We have found hospital pens do not help the animals recover and they do not prevent the spreading of the illness.  Just like in your family when you come home from the doctor (you don’t take your sick child to a hotel in isolation), because you already know your other children were exposed.

3.      Preventing the spread of bacteria and illness.  I believe through conversation this is the leading cause of debate with antibiotic use in beef cattle.  On occasion we have a scenario where we have pulled a large percentage of sick cattle from a pen and a few have died even after being treated multiple times. We have two different veterinarians that travel through the feedyard weekly (or more) to evaluate cattle, answer our scientific questions, and provide sound advice in situations where we have seen a significant amount of illness in a certain population of cattle.  We have a weekly consultation with our veterinarians, which many times are conversations about how great the cattle look, the pen conditions, or improvement strategies. However on occasion we do have serious discussions about outbreaks of illness in pens that have not been controlled by individual treatments.  When the death loss rises and we see more sick cattle in a pen then well ones the mass treatment of a pen becomes a viable option.  Before this is done, a timeline of events is given to the veterinarian.  The veterinarian sits with the team to discuss what they have seen and what they have treated with. By this point we usually have necropsy (an autopsy done on an animal) reports and data to diagnose what the problem is.   Usually then the pen is pulled and sent through the processing barn to be evaluated individually and treated with a drug more suitable for the scenario.  In this case we sometimes make the decision to treat animals that have no symptoms because the veterinarian has diagnosed the illness and has data to support they will likely get the illness eventually. At this point we will leave this decision up to our veterinarian.

.     WITHDRAWAL TIMES - It is worth understanding the withdrawal time laws as consumer. Regardless of how and why the animal was treated the specific drug has a withdrawal date decided upon by the FDA.  This withdrawal time is the researched time that specifies the amount of time that it would take for the drug residues to leave the meat.  This means that animals are not sold until our records and tags indicate that the withdrawal time has been followed. This withdrawal time assures 4+ Feeders that our product is safe to ship.  More importantly, consumers can be sure that the beef they purchase and feed their family is antibiotic free.

       The Challenge: I have explained the process of how to look for a calf at 4+ that may need treated.  That leaves the challenge here of to treat or not to treat. You decide.

Calf A (not the photo bomber)

Calf B:  reddish, brown calf in front.

Calf C
Calf D

       Useful Tools for Agriculture Education


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  2. well, this is such an informative article... but the use of antibiotics is so crucial in today's
    dairy farming. Antibiotics must be used judiciously in animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of really particular concern.. For example, resistant bacteria may be transmitted to humans through the foods we eat. this is my big concern so i would suggest that the cattle should be treated
    Some bacteria have become resistant to more than one type of antibiotic, which makes it more difficult to treat the infections they cause. so it is better to Preserve the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs is vital to protecting human and animal health.

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