Cattle Feeder’s Day Looks at Antibiotic Use

2/1/2014 7:00 AM
By Michelle Kunjappu Reporter

LANCASTER, Pa. — Luckily farmers are a hardy breed, so temperatures hovering near 11 degrees F didn’t seem to keep anyone home as more than 150 people gathered Tuesday at Lancaster’s Farm and Home Center for the 45th annual Cattle Feeder’s Day.

Dave Wolfgang, Penn State Extension veterinarian, talked about “Using Antibiotics Wisely” in his morning presentation.

Currently, agriculture is perceived to be responsible for antibiotic resistance, said Wolfgang, who pointed out that there are antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria buried in the permafrost of Antarctic and in remote regions of Africa that have never been exposed to antibiotics.

“The biggest problem, I believe, is indiscriminate use of antibiotics around the world,” Wolfgang said. For example, “if you’re in eastern Europe you can go to the pharmacy and buy as much cipro (Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections) as you want and take it for as long as you want.”

Easily accessible antibiotics also are available and used in many second- and third-world countries. There, people buy antibiotics, treat themselves “and then those people travel across the globe, and you meet with them, or they use a public bathroom, and it’s really easy how those things get transferred around the world,” he said. “They self treat, then travel with people-resistant bugs.”

Residues Versus Tolerances

Wolfgang also explained residues and tolerances in antibiotics. Residues, he said, are “minute qualities of a product found in food products after exposure or use in an animal,” and those limits are set and controlled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“What’s transpired over the years is that the government has come up with tolerance levels that they consider safe, so below that, even though there may be minute traces, it doesn’t cause a health problem,” Wolfgang said.

However “as we’ve advanced in ability to find something — now we’re at parts per billion and moving to parts per trillion — our tests are more sensitive than they were years and years ago,” he said. “The FDA develops a new test, can find it (a residue) and the public perceives that it must be a problem.”

Wolfgang noted that dairy producers especially need to be mindful of withdrawal times and when cattle can go to market, as about 84 percent of the residues come from animals sold from dairies.

“Protocols are really the way to make an impact,” Wolfgang said, adding that a written, clear protocol plan “can assure everybody else that what you’re doing is correct.”

But he added that rather than just developing a protocol to treat animals, people should design a protocol that makes sense.

For example, in a protocol to treat pneumonia, “for young calves create a scoring system, some criteria, and as you put that criteria in a system you say, OK, when I see these signs, I’m going to treat them this way,’ ” he said.

“Many of you have these protocols in your head already. Take that and you formalize that, so it’s not just you but whoever works for you, and if the FDA comes ... this is written down,” Wolfgang said.

“If it’s not written down, and they’ve found something in a calf associated with you, you’re guilty. If it’s not written down, they won’t believe you, and they’ll assume the worst,” he said. “If the folks from FDA stop to visit your farm, you would have these protocols and products to match your plan.”

Wolfgang encourages what he called a two-notebook strategy, where one detailed notebook has protocols written out so if the writer had to be absent from the farm, someone stepping in to help could see what to do.

The other notebook is full of records — “when you treated them, how long until they can go back to market and the initials of who administered a shot,” he said. “If you do it, you can actually improve therapy because you pick products that work best on your farm and tailor your protocols to work on your farm.”


Diagnosing an animal properly and quickly is key to judicious use of antibiotics, according to Wolfgang.

“We tend to do diagnostics after the third or fourth one died,” he said. “Treating them after the first or second one gets sick is more effective.

“Without having diagnostics, you may pick an extraordinarily effective antibiotic, but not one to kill the bug you’re looking at,” he said.

Instead, “talk to your vet about getting samples early, so you can position yourself so you don’t have an outbreak. It’s cheaper for everybody and better for animals,” he said.

“The bacteria you find determines which antibiotic you pick,” Wolfgang said.

In the end, he said, “stop or prevent the disease rather than trying to treat it.”

For example, when cattle first arrive at a feedlot, “the most important thing you can do is have good quality hay and good quality water and get them to eat and drink,” Wolfgang said.

Rather than further stressing them with a shot, or castrating them off the truck, “if you can keep those animals hydrated, along with good food and fresh air, that is the single most important thing you can do to ensure animal health,” he said.

“Sometimes when they’re stressed some oral antibiotics might be a good thing to do,” he said, “but you need a plan.”

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