Practical Ways to Decrease Antibiotic Usage in the Cattle Industry!
By Roy Lewis DVM
The livestock industry is making great strides in decreasing antimicrobial usage which indirectly helps with antimicrobial resistance. From veterinarians setting the example, to cow-calf and feedlot operations implementing effective coping strategies, huge progress is being made. There are management changes which can be made to minimize disease incidence. The policymakers can also look at ways to increase research in antimicrobials or alternative treatment methods. Monitoring and surveillance of drug resistance such as an antimicrobial task force headed by the veterinary colleges, look at the evolution of antibiotic resistance. What can you do today as a cattle producer in whichever segment of the cattle industry you are involved? This article will address changes you can make that may decrease disease incidence and therefore the need for antimicrobial use in your calves.
Producers need to develop strategies and herd health measures with their veterinarians and nutritionists to maximize resistance in the calves. Proper and complete vaccination protocols at the appropriate times coupled with proper nutrition and parasite control maximizes protection. Knowledge of the diseases prevalent in the area and using vaccines at the recommended age on non-stressed cattle should also increase protection. True preconditioning programs, where calves are immunized before weaning and then weaned with low-stress practices have shown the best results at reducing respiratory morbidity. This takes extra effort and cost from the cow-calf producer but is the right thing to do. With true preconditioning programs, treatment drugs are substantially reduced, and metaphylactic (preventative) drugs can be avoided in most cases. This only works well if cattle are then directly shipped from farm to feedlot and not co-mingled with other producers’ calves.
Vaccines in general when boosted provide good protection to 90 per cent or so of the calves. The exposure level, the stress the calves are under, transportation distance, feed changes, handling stresses, and ability to find feed and water in a new pen all contribute to the morbidity level. This, coupled with the identification and early detection of disease, determines how many antimicrobials are used, as the first one to two months after arrival at the feedlot account for much of the antimicrobials used in the beef production chain.
Vaccines are constantly improving in their spectrum, length, and quickness of protection, and disease prevention has been the focus of much of the current research. Now there are more intranasal vaccines which rapidly give local immunity in the windpipe and nasopharynx. Some are developed for respiratory viruses and others for the respiratory bacteria. This quicker protection should also cut down on the incidence of respiratory disease. When vaccinating be sure to store properly (keep refrigerated until use), rehydrate and use modified vaccines within one hour, use proper injection sites, and have epinephrine on hand in case of a rare allergic reaction. Proper application of vaccines means the herd will be better immunized and require less antibiotic treatment.
There are many alternative products to antibiotics such as NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory’s), probiotics, electrolyte solutions such as DeStress, essential oils or gases such as nitric oxide to treat respiratory disease. There is no doubt that NSAIDs are prescribed by most veterinarians these days as an adjunct therapy for many infections and inflammatory conditions such as respiratory disease. Early detection methods such as thermography, monitoring movement or activity, as well as a stethoscope coupled to a computer program (whisper technology) may go a long way towards detecting clinical cases of respiratory disease earlier. This may change the type and duration of antibiotics necessary.
A proper and timely diagnosis is essential for antimicrobials to work. Infections that are acted on too slowly require more antibiotics and if treating the wrong condition antibiotics could be used with poor results. A prime example is dealing with lameness which has become the second most treated condition in many feedlots. True footrot responds very favourably to many antibiotics whereas a sole abscess may need to be pared out or a sprain-strain may need time rather than antibiotics. Each medical case must be assessed with the question: “Do I really need antibiotics?” If in doubt, a veterinarian can provide guidance and protocols for specific disease conditions. Localized abscesses for instance if lanced, drained, and flushed may or may not need antibiotic treatment. Veterinarians can assist if a lack of response to antibiotics or recurrent cases may require a culture of the organism to reveal a resistance pattern. There is often a resistance to families of antibiotics so defaulting to a secondary treatment with a very similar antibiotic may not be the right answer.
In the future, more direct shipping of loads of cattle from the ranch to the feedlot can minimize treatments greatly. Satellite and video auctions are ways to get this done and subsequently cut overhead costs and deliver a healthier product to the feedlot operator while minimizing transportation and the stress of co-mingling. Calves will get on feed quicker, and their vaccination and treatment history is available. That is valuable information. All sectors of the cattle industry need to work together to maintain a healthy meat protein source for consumption. Antibiotics will always be required to some extent, but some of these management changes can minimize their usage and save them for the cases that are life-threatening. If the industry works together to use prevention strategies such as vaccinating, getting a proper diagnosis, and using approved antimicrobials for cattle, the situation will improve. Cattle will be healthier and Canadian beef will continue to have a high level of quality and safety.