Friday, January 6, 2012

What's an ounce of prevention worth?

I use preventative medicine too when I feel it's needed.  I believe it is important that we as livestock farmers explain the needs or reasons of why this is used.  Let's be honest here.  Extremists will take numbers & construe them to look as something they are not in the real world.  Making it extremely difficult for the average person to decipher through all the muddle and find real world information on the what & how antibiotics are used in livestock farming.  

Cattle farmers, it is damn freakin time you begin to tell your personal stories.  Stop with the science mumbo jumbo ping pong back and forth.  We love our animals no matter how large or small our farms are.  We do what we believe is best for them with  the information we have available to us at that time.   Just as we raise our children different, farmers raise their livestock differently.  Not better or worse.  Just different.  I know this.  Let the rest of the population know this too.

Last spring was a perfect example of when & why I utilize preventative antibiotics.  Here's my story.... 

Kentucky was flooding.  The rounds of thunderstorms & torrential rains would not give us a break.  I was putting my daughter on the school bus when I noticed a mama cow, Sandra Dee (yep, I'm a total Grease fanatic!) had separated herself from the herd.  The creek was well out of its bank and she was on the bank.  I knew instantly that something was wrong.  Keep in mind that lightening was roaring all around me...and her.  Lightening was so bad that day that a tree was struck and on fire only about maybe 100 or so feet from where I stood.   I went to her which was no small feat! The farm was flooded.    

She was in labor and in trouble.  She had prolapsed but something else was wrong.  She couldn't move.  I tried to get her up.  She couldn't and made no attempt to stand. She was in deep mud.  From the ruts in the mud, it appeared that she had fallen.  I suspected her leg was broken or maybe even her hip. I needed help to help her and her calf.  It was a slaughter day at our slaughterhouse so that meant the boys & John were tied up with farmers & livestock comings 'n goins so I was on my own. Grabbed my cell & called for backup, my handy dandy vet. Unfortunately, I was not the only farmer in need that day.  Flooding was wreaking havoc all over the area. It would be a couple of hours or so before the vet arrived. 

I worked with her through the downpours & crashing lightening.  Never left her side but to run to the shed for this 'n that or whatever I could find that I thought might help.  The water was rising at a rapid pace.  This was not going to be easy and was not how I had planned to begin my day.  A little about me.  I'm 5' tall on a good day.  I'm not big & mighty but I am a damn good (and determined) woman farmer.  What we women lack in muscle brawn we make up for in brains & leverage.  I stabilized her the best I could with miscellaneous stuff I'd gathered around the area & the shed.    
Sandra Dee
Vet arrived.  Confirmed my fears.  Not only was she obviously terribly prolapsed (she was an old cow, goin on maybe 13 years or so I forget exactly), her hip was shattered. <--Correction: Butcherboy has corrected me, as he likes to do frequently. ;) Sandra was 14 going on 15. Now that we have that out of the way, back to my story...
I knew what we had to do but that didn't mean I had to like it.  I was going to lose her.  I had to make some fast decisions.  There wasn't time to mull all this over & weigh out options.  She was in pain and her calf was going to die.  I decided I wasn't going to allow her to suffer any longer.  I loved her & was determined to save her calf.   I called John who was just on the other side of the farm at the slaughterhouse.  I need JB.  Tell him to bring the gun.  We can't save her. 

JB was there in minutes.  I patted her on the head, closed my eyes,  and with a tear in his eye, she was out of her misery in an instant.  We quickly switched gears.  Vet helped pull the calf and Charlie the bull calf entered this world.  As he was working on the calf, I dropped down on the muddy bank.  I guess the adrenalin had stopped.  I don't know.  I just wept.  I was so sad to lose that Sandra Dee.  The reality of what all had happened so fast just hit me all at once.  Now keep in mind, a dead mom, a muddy flooded bank, and a crazy wild thunderstorm is not the ideal time or place for a calf to come into this world.  This is where my preventative medicine became a necessity in my mind. 
Charlie the bull calf
JB quickly carried the calf through the flooded barnlot to my pickup truck that was parked on the road.  There was too much mud & flood waters to get the truck inside the lot.  I ran over to our old chicken coop, threw down some fresh straw, and ran to the house to grab some towels, blankets or whatever I could find to get the calf dried and warm.  First colostrum is essential to a calf's health.  The vet got a bag & shoved a tube down him.  Success.  Shot of antibiotics and his job was finished.   I got the calf comfortable, warm, and dry and then headed to town exhausted, muddy, and bloody to buy some milk replacer....medicated milk replacer.  Why?  He needed the best shot I could give him to survive and for me that was it.  
Colostrum by tube
After a few failed attempts, we finally had our first successful bottle feeding on day two I believe.  The kind where more went into the calf's belly than on me!  He was going to be alright.  After a month or so, I began transitioning him from medicated milk replacer to more hay and medicated calf starter feed.  With a little help & assurance from an initial shot of antibiotics and the ongoing coccidiostat medicated milk replacer and supplemental feed, today he is strong and healthy.  Charlie is now a member of our herd grazing pasture & chomping hay.  And when he hears his mama (me!) shaking a bucket of feed, he comes a runnin to greet me.  I couldn't be more proud.
More in him than on me.  Success!

Not once did money cross my mind during this whole fiasco.  Oh sure, months later the financial losses were something I had to deal with and did not thrill me to do so.  But in the moment, when a member of our herd needs help, money is the farthest thing from our minds.  I am not special or unique.  Most any livestock farmer I know would do (and has done) exactly the same things.  We love our animals and will do whatever we have to do to save them.  Our cattle are not just some no name animals dotting  our farmland.  Our herd is our farm and part of our family.  This example is partly why I don't want to see an all out ban on preventative antibiotics for food producing animals.  Farmers need these tools available to them when the moment arises.  There is no time to fill out paperwork, sort through regulations, or round up a large animal vet (in short supply, btw).  Minutes can mean the difference in life or death on the farm.  

These tools in place help us to care for our animals without the government mucking up our ability to do so.  As a mom, I'm thankful to have OTC medicine on the shelf at a 24hour mart when I need to treat one of my kids.  Do some people abuse this convenience?  Sure they do but responsible people do not.  Just as responsible farmers do not abuse preventative antibiotics. They are tools, not crutches, and should be treated as such.

This is the real story of American animal agriculture.  Farmers, what's your story?  What situations have you been put in that create the necessity for antibiotics whether therapeutic or preventative?  When have you found yourself in a predicament where time was essential?  

These are the stories folks need to hear.  Personally speaking, I'm on the fence on whether or not antibiotics are overused in animal agriculture.  I know what I do on my farm but I don't know what you do on yours.  I would like to (and I'm sure surely others would also) hear your personal accounts of why they are used, when, how they improve the health of your herd, or why you feel they do not or aren't necessary.

These are the stories you should be telling.

If you'd like to view other pictures from that day, you can see them archived on our facebook page here.


  1. Amy, what a great story.
    I know on this farm--striving for Certified Organic--we use medicines as little as possible. Most of the farms I've worked on, likewise. Not out of ethics, but more like economic necessity--continually dosing livestock costs in more ways than one.

    Now, I usually search long and hard for anything I can do before I let a vet on the farm. Having studied to be one, I know just enough to be dangerous. I have successfully saved very sick cattle with nothing more than dandelion tea and comfrey root. But when my best milking Jersey got sick this fall I did what was right.

    I noticed this 4yr old cow losing weight & dropping her lactation. It came on suddenly shortly after freshening. At first I thought it was milk fever or ketosis and treated accordingly. She got better, but still wasn't right. Weeks went by, and then my observant daughter noticed the girl's jaw wasn't quite right. I stopped to look and sure enough, the cow was chewing way off. I went up to see if the jaw was broken and was confronted with a boil the size of a grapefruit, and stuff oozing from her ear. It was hard and impacting the TMJ so she couldn't chew well. No wonder she was loosing weight & dropping milk production. The vet was called. Penicillin was injected and milk dumped. 10 days later things were much improved. The Jersey had gained weight, was still lactating, although I dried her off, and her jaw was set back to normal. It still took 20 more days for the boil to come to a head and explode all over my side. She is now completely normal and healthy.
    I truly believe I would have lost this young, productive cow if I had been stubborn and said no to antibiotics. They have there place and should be used wisely.


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