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. 


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