Producers move toward fewer antibiotics

Cattle industry must find strategies as it prepares to reduce antibiotic use; immunization is one tool to control disease

Antibiotic-free beef may sound good to the public but treating sick animals is part of good welfare practices.

“One of the key strategies is how can we improve the health of animals in our herd,” said Alberta veterinarian Steve Hendrick.

Non-weaned calves are commonly treated with antibiotics for scours and pneumonia, he said at an animal health discussion during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference held in Calgary.

Young animals become sick for a variety reasons, he said.

Baby animals that did not get enough colostrum are more likely to get sick or die. Calves born to heifers, twins or those that had a difficult birth are also more at risk.

Immunization is another tool to control disease. If a vaccine is not handled correctly or given at the right time, it won’t be as effective so producers must work with veterinarians to ensure proper delivery.

Nutrition and body condition scoring are also underutilized, Hendrick said.

“If you have got a mama cow with a growing fetus inside of her and she is getting starved for nutrients, that does impact that future calf,” he said.

Low-stress handling also helps.

“After processing, if crews have to shovel crap out of the chute afterwards, we know pretty obviously we are not handling those cattle as quietly as we could,” Hendrick said.

Preconditioning to prepare animals for the feedlot has value and will become more important with continued changes to antibiotic regulations.

Preconditioning includes weaning strategies to reduce stress.

Weaning on the truck leaves feedlots with future health problems.

Research by Feedlot Health Management Services at Okotoks, Alta., examined antibiotic use among 2.6 million cattle at 36 feedlots between 2008-12. Many feedlot cattle received an antibiotic at one time in their lives but only 15 percent of the antibiotics were medically important. Rumensin made up the bulk of products given.

However, antibiotics were used to prevent and treat disease as well as control conditions like bovine respiratory disease.

Other products were delivered in the feed to control liver abscesses and histophilus.

Under new federal regulations, producers require a prescription for antibiotics and they must have an ongoing veterinary-client relationship. Animal health and treatment plans are expected to improve the condition of livestock because producers need to consult more with practitioners.

The regulations are meant to control the use of drugs important in human medicine and to curb the creation of more drug-resistant bacteria.

Health Canada ranks antibiotics into several categories including low, medium, high and of very high importance.

The World Organization for Animal Health considers macrolides (Micotil and Draxxin) as critically important and some retailers do not want them used for disease control or treatment of sick animals.

Categorizations of drugs could change over time so better diagnostics and earlier intervention are needed to help reduce medication use.

Alternative products like immunostimulants and probiotics are on the market to treat disease but have varying levels of effectiveness.

“If they were the wonder drug right now everybody would be using them. I am optimistic down the road some of these products will become better. At this point in time I can tell you, there is no one product every herd should use,” said Hendrick.

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