Ask A Farmer: Use of Antibiotics in Cattle Feedlots

Beef Runner

Last week, I brought forward some Food For Thought on the issue of antibiotic use in livestock. The concerns surrounding an increase in antibiotic resistance seem to raise a lot of emotion and controversy around our food supply, just as the use of other feed additives, chemicals, herbicides, and countless other technologies and applications of science. I have addressed some of these subjects as they relate to beef cattle production in my Ask A Farmer series.

When I asked others involved in livestock production to share their experience with the use of antibiotics, I had a few replies. Andrew Goodrich was one of the first to respond with a lengthy answer, so I will share some of his responses. We haven’t agreed during more than a few conversations online, but I have to respect his experience in the field. Andrew has worked on several cattle feedlots in the…

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Questioning Cattle Deaths in South Dakota

This is a pretty great explanation.

Pretty Work

I’ve been reading through blog posts about the aftermath of last weeks winter storm in South Dakota.  I came across a couple of news articles on CNN and NBC News sites.  And then I did something I never, ever should have done.  I scrolled down to the comments section.  Word of advice: Do Not Scroll Down to the Comments Section.  Ever.

It’s not a nice place.  People are very nasty there.  It made me sad and mad and dumbfounded.  There were so many accusations  comments from so many people who very clearly of little to no understanding of ranching or livestock.  But boy oh boy, do they have opinions!

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I am not here to try to change anyone’s mind, this is after all, a free country.  All I’m asking is that you try to base your opinions on facts and not assumptions…

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I’m done with #donewithAW

When my buddy Derek first sent me the link to A&W’s better beef website, I really didn’t give it much thought. They promoted beef raised without implants or antibiotics, which isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but they did a pretty good job explaining about how sick animals are properly treated and removed from the program, and how it is raised without added hormones. The only problem I really saw with it is that they weren’t getting all their beef from Canada.

A few days later, the agvocates caught scent of it. The thought of being as famous as Dairy Carrie and her pluckezchicken campaign danced in front of them and they’ve been trying to tear apart good old Ape & Willies ever since. There are a couple major differences between A&W and Panera Bread though. First, PB flat out called farmers lazy. A&W has done nothing to question the integrity or work ethic of this nations producers. Second, PB used harsh imagery and phrasing to insinuate that all meat produced that doesn’t match their their standards is unsafe. A&W has done nothing to slander conventional Canadian beef.

So what’s the real problem here? I think it might be that we wait around, content with the status quo, and then when somebody comes up with a better way to market their product, we jump all over them. I mean, by this standard, shouldn’t all you Hereford breeders be tearing apart the certified Angus program?

Can you imagine where our industry would be if all the folks took the time they wasted harassing A&W, and used it to improve their stockmanship skills, or their knowledge of animal health or nutrition. Maybe they could even (and I’m going out on a limb here) use that time to learn about marketing and finding a niche. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is quit your bitching, focus on doing your job better, and maybe one day you won’t need to spend all your time reacting to something on social media. 

The Feedlot Special Olympics: A guide on how to effectively lower animal handling standards.

Last month, I competed in the Zoetis Feedlot Challenge. It’s a feedlot competition in southern Alberta where teams from various feedlots demonstrate their processing and pen checking prowess, and their knowledge of antibiotics, vaccines, and diseases associated with feedlot production. Over the past few years, this has been a great event that’s promoted low stress cattle handling in the area. This year, however, seemed to be a huge step backwards. 

Almost every aspect of the event was excellent.  The processing went smooth, the exam was fair, the steaks were rare and the beer was cold.  My qualms lie in the pen checking competition, and specifically the judging. There was way too much emphasis put on pressuring the animals out of the pen.  Truly effective cattle handlers understand pressure and release. If you don’t provide release at the gate, and continue to pressure it out, you will change the behavior of that animal and his pen mates. If you are checking high risk calves, this will translate to missed pulls every time. 

When we spend three years promoting pressure and release and showing cattle the way out, what message do we send when we tell the pen checkers to chase them out the gate in the fourth year? We are telling them to revert, to just do it how we did before. 

So kudos to the judge, Curt Pate.  Anybody who promotes better livestock handling deserves credit, but in the future, the bar needs to be set higher. Every time we work cattle we have to strive for perfection and effectiveness.  When the winning team has negative motion in half the pen, this is far from effective. I hope that in the future, our industry sets higher standards for handling and aims for goals that are a little loftier than what’s easily achieved. 

Sunday Column: When summer’s over

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The hay is baled up and waiting to be moved out of the fields.

he hot sun is starting to turn the leaves on the trees a little bit lighter.

The cattails are bending and swaying in the warm breeze.

The water in the stock damns is getting low and covered in moss.

The tomatoes are ripe.

The school busses are kicking up dust on the back roads.

The days are getting shorter.

Coming Home: Summer can’t last as life goes on
By Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum


Summer’s almost over.

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Everyone’s an expert

A few months ago when I decided to get active in social media and start sharing my views, I kept coming across a buzzword that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue :agvocacy. Initially, I thought this was spectacular. Farmers and ranchers advocating for agriculture seemed like a concept that will change our industry. After a few months of reading blogs and spending entire evenings trolling through twitter, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of “agvocates” are full of shit. 

I honestly can’t remember the last time I read an original thought on a blog. I read an article from Reuters or Drovers, and then my twitter feed blows up with links to blogs about these subjects. I click these links and I find wannabe journalists regurgitating the same crap from that article.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve read several blogs about Zilmax. Most of these are written by cow calf producers and students with no experience to back up what they’re writing about.  They just write down somebody else’s thoughts and present it as fact. It would be nice to see some original thoughts on Zilmax and what the real problems are. 
When we have thousands of farmers presenting themselves as experts, we are going to do more harm than good. Someone with limited feedlot experience being referred to as an expert on the industry is worse than me telling people why gestation crates are a good thing. It’s important to remember that just because somebody has thousands of people following them, doesn’t mean they’re always going to be the best source of information. 


#pluckEZchicken, Squabbling Farmers, and Zilmax

I’ve been pretty busy this past week packing and whatnot but I wanted to muse over a few things that have been consuming my thoughts lately. 
First off is the whole pluckEZchicken movement. I think it’s a great thing that this was brought to light and producers stood up for themselves and their production practices. What’s grinding my gears about this is the division in producers. On almost every blog, tweet, Facebook status, and smoke signal regarding the subject, you can bet your firstborn that two producers from either side of the fence will be bickering over who’s right. They aren’t always all out fights, but in almost every discussion there seems to be some underlying tones of condescension. Neither side will give and admit that there are merits to both sides of the arguments. I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this, but I wonder what it does for consumer confidence and public perception? Could somebody come in and see these comments and still leave without their preconceived notions? I don’t think so. It might be time the industry started promoting meat as a whole. If the consumer wants natural, organic, or conventional protein, they will find it. When we start promoting our product as better than our neighbours because we use or don’t use antibiotics, we are just as guilty as Panera Bread for using fear based marketing. Now I realize it is probably more complicated than this, but those are my thoughts. 
Next is Zilmax. God I hate Zilmax. When I saw that Tyson will no longer be accepting Zilmax cattle I danced, and it was a happy dance. When I first encountered Zilmax a few years ago I didn’t notice any specific health problems with it, but after 7 or 10 days the cattle started looking different. Their barrels would grow and they’d almost look unnatural. You’d see these fine-boned, skinny legged heifers with the muscling of a 1500 pound steer. When you start changing cattle like that, it’s bad news. Over the past two years, the health problems have become a lot more obvious to me. I haven’t seen the soreness (we use A LOT of wood shavings) but the lethargy is definitely there. The more prevalent problem (in my opinion) are the AIPs. You can guarantee when a pen of cattle goes on Zilmax, the incidence of AIPs will take a pretty significant jump. With cattle not on this beta antagonist, the pen riders and doctors have a pretty good shot at saving and salvaging an AIP. With Zilmax that’s not always the case. They seem to be a lot more severe and treatment failures and non responsive cattle are a lot more common. So what gets me is, why has it taken until now for this to happen? How could we knowingly feed something that does this? I understand that it puts a lot of pounds of beef on an animal, but with the public spotlight on animal welfare and production practices, you would think its removal would be justified. I also wonder, how much the consumers know about beta antagonists? If they knew how the animal was physically changed, I wonder whether it would be as hot a topic as antibiotics?
Anyway, those are my random thoughts for the evening. Have a good one folks. 

Determining Antibiotic Use in the Feedlot

With all the talk of antibiotic use in livestock I thought I’d share the process of selecting, pulling, treating, and rehabilitation of sick cattle. 
First, in every feedlot there is a crew of pen checkers. They are individuals who are trained to identify signs of sickness, lameness, and anything else that would require an animal to be pulled from its home pen and brought to the hospital. Typically they will look for the animal(s) that stand out from the rest. In a pen of cattle, the majority will be healthy so it’s best to see what the pen looks like as a whole and identify the ones that stand out from there. Early clinical signs of respiratory disease (BRD) in cattle are often very subtle and difficult to pick out. They can be as simple as dull eyes, flaring nostrils, or hanging their head a bit when they walk. As the disease progresses, the signs will become a bit more obvious. There may or may not be nasal discharge, the animal will appear obviously depressed, the coat will be dull, and their breathing will often be laboured. When they’re determined to be sick, they will be pulled from the pen, either on horseback or foot, and brought to the hospital. 
At the hospital barn, a team of doctors will use a thermometer, stethoscope, and a visual assessment of the animal to diagnose its disease, and the severity of that disease. A rectal temperature will tell the doctors an animals fever and whether its immune system is functioning. Animals with a non-functioning immune system usually won’t throw up a fever. Listening to air movement through the lungs will determine the level of congestion and restriction in the airways, and help differentiate between different types of pneumonia. A visual assessment will help to determine whether an animal can return home or must stay in a convalescing pen for a while. 
The antibiotics used are determined by a protocol established by a veterinarian. The vet will prescribe a proper course of therapy for different diseases and severities. At the time of treatment, all information is entered into a computerized record keeping system. Antibiotics used, dosage, route of administration, animal ID number, and weight are all recorded to help ensure all animals harvested have cleared the withdrawal time. 
If animal is determined unfit to return home, they will be sorted into convalescing pens containing similar sized animals with similar afflictions. Here, they are exercised and worked with daily and fed a lower energy ration with increased roughage to help them through recovery. When the animal is ready to go home, their weight, treatment history, and withdrawal times are reviewed to make sure they can thrive at home. 
Hopefully this provides a bit of insight into antibiotic usage in the feedlot.