Responsible antibiotic use on dairy farms
Over the years, dairy farmers have learned that in order to manage costs on the farm, we must become a jack of all trades. From repairman to manager, we have adapted to handle some day-to-day tasks on our own. With animal health being a top priority on the farm, we have even adapted to do some of the veterinary work ourselves such as vaccination and treatment of common illnesses. We need to take a step back with our self-administration of treatments to make sure that we are utilizing these antibiotics and other drugs in a logical and responsible manner. Dairy farmers and employees are the first line of defense to prevent drug contamination of milk and beef from entering our food supply.
When considering whether to treat an animal, we must keep several things in mind: 1) Am I using the correct drug and administering techniques to treat the condition(s) of the animal? 2) Is the drug safe for the animal that I intend to use it on? 3) Finally, am I using the drug in a way that the food products produced from this animal will be safe for human consumption after the appropriate withholding time?
Luckily, we are not alone in answering these questions. The care and health of our cattle are a combined effort between veterinarians and the farmer/ employees. Under the guidance of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), we can effectively and efficiently develop treatment protocols to treat cattle on our farms. Additionally, there are laws, guidelines and procedures that must be followed in order to use the drugs as intended. Several steps we must follow when using drugs are:
- Read the label: It is the responsibility of the dairy producer to understand and follow the direction for all prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Every label will include: 1) the species for which the drug is approved, 2) the disease or condition for which the drug is approved, 3) dosage, 4) frequency (number of times to treat in one day), 5) route(s) of administration, 6) duration of treatment, 7) withholding times, and 8) any additional cautions or warnings. The label will also include the name and contact information of the dispensing veterinarian(s). It is illegal under U.S. law to utilize the medication in a different treatment method than what is included on the label unless advised by a licensed veterinarian.
- Proper administration: After you have read the label, it is time to administer the product properly. It is important to use clean needles and syringes. Take your time to make sure that the animal is properly restrained. If necessary, request additional help to make the medication delivery successful. When finished, steps should be taken to make sure that the equipment used is properly disposed of. Utilize a sharps container for all used needles. Injuries from needlesticks and improperly restrained animals are common on dairy farms. Visit the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) website for additional on-farm safety and health resources.
- Physically marking treated animals: As farms become larger, it is common for a number of different people to handle a cow in one day. With treated cows, it is essential to visually mark the cow with a special neck chain, leg band, or a marking on the rump with a paint stick. The physical indicators are good insurance that everyone on the farm knows that the cow is treated. Some farms even move the cow to a different pen away from untreated milking cows as a secondary precaution.
- Keep detailed records: Antibiotics and other drugs available for use on a dairy farm have different directions for use and withholding times. Detailed records are essential, especially on larger dairies where multiple people may be administering treatments to animals. By keeping detailed records, we can better determine when the last treatment was given, if additional treatments are needed and when the withholding times have elapsed. Common records include: date and time of treatment, cow ID, reason for treatment, name of medication, amount given, method of administration, and withholding time. Templates for record keeping can be found on the National Dairy FARM Program website in the "Milk and Dairy Beef Drug Residue Prevention, Producer Manual of Best Management Practices". Record keeping is essential to ensure that no dairy cow's milk or beef with antibiotic residues is sold. Even unintentionally, the marketing of milk or beef with antibiotic residues is illegal and can result in financial and criminal penalties.
Over the years, the percentage of positive antibiotic tests has decreased. However, we can still decrease this percentage even further by following the above described steps. The overall health of our animals is vital to our business. By monitoring for sick animals, treating when necessary, recording and tracking the health of the animal beyond the withholding period, we can ensure all beef and milk produced on our farms are safe for human consumption.
Preventing Drug Residues in Milk and Cull Dairy Cows - Virginia Cooperative Extension