As a child, I was first introduced to the art of training animals watching my dad train his hunting dogs. When I moved to Nebraska and went to work at our cattle feed yard, my interest in working with animals blossomed. Over the past 15 years, I have devoted my life to understanding and training my animals. In a feed yard setting, this is critical for reducing the stress level of my animals and also for ensuring safe cattle handling for myself and my crew.
Training animals absolutely fascinates me, and I spend my spare time training and working with my horses. I winter my horses on the alfalfa field behind my house. They graze all day, and then I bring them in at night into the corral. My communication system with my horses is so subtle that all I need to do to bring them into the corral from the alfalfa field at the end of the day is to point my finger at the gate.
I am a good communicator with my animals because it is what I do every day. Like many other cattlemen, my communication skills with my animals are better than my communication skills with people. While my horses may know what I mean when I point my finger at something; that is certainly not an effective way for me to communicate with you: my beef consumer. You have a right to know and understand where your beef comes from, so it is my job to figure out a way to explain it with words.
The last couple of weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking about antibiotic use (both human and bovine). As I read through your comments and questions to me regarding this topic, I realized that I needed to address a couple more things for clarification purposes before I leave the subject for a while to talk about other things relative to cattle care and beef production.
- How does the beef industry regulate itself relative to antibiotic use? Cattlemen rely heavily on their consulting veterinarian for cattle health issues. I am in close contact with my vet and he guides me on animal health issues (both on preventative health programs and in the treatment of clinically sick animals). The Beef Quality Assurance program fosters this incredibly important relationship between cattle farmers and their vets, as well as providing further education on properly administering animal health products. Finally, all of the antibiotics that I use at the feed yard are licensed and regulated by the FDA and I am required by law to administer them according to the label instructions.
- How can consumers know that their beef contains no remnants or traces of antibiotics? It is illegal to send a food animal to harvest with any trace of an antibiotic in their system. You can feel confident that the beef that you are eating does not contain any antibiotic residues because cattle are tested at harvest for these residues, and if one does contain a residue then it is not allowed to enter the food chain. The percentage of cattle coming out of cattle finishing feed yards (like mine) containing residues is 0.000017% which statistically equates to zero.
- Are antibiotics routinely used as feed additives in cattle rations for the express purpose of growth promotion? I do not feed antibiotics to my cattle for growth promoting purposes. I do, however, use a feed additive that is an ionophore to improve the health of the rumen (cattle are ruminate animals and have a digestive tract that includes a system of four stomachs). Ionophores are not classified by the FDA as antibiotics, and there is no product used in human health that contains anything remotely similar to an ionophore. It is, therefore, irrelevant in the discussion of antibiotic resistance. An ionophore modifies the fermentation process in the rumen which allows the bovine to capture more energy from its feedstuffs while also reducing the amount of methane that it secretes. This is a very important part of reducing the environmental footprint of my cattle (fewer resources are necessary to produce beef while the amount of methane that they secrete into the environment is also reduced).
- The explanation of ionophores brings me to the last question to address: Why is antibiotic use in cattle misunderstood by many consumers? I believe that there are two reasons that such a large misunderstanding exists regarding antibiotic use in cattle: 1. cattlemen (like me) do not do a good job communicating with you (the consumer) about the products that we use and the way that we use them, and 2. political activist groups incorrectly use statistics to scare consumers regarding antibiotic use in cattle. The bottom line is that I follow the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials that I listed in my recent post http://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/the-conversationalist-take-2-bovine-respiratory-antibiotic-use-relative-to-human-antibiotic-resistance/ , I do my homework so that I understand the consequences of the decisions that I make regarding antibiotic use in my bovines, and I care about the issue of antibiotic resistance.
I encourage anyone that did not read the above mentioned post to read it carefully. Both the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials and the seven part explanation of Dr. Mike Apley regarding the scientific process of antibiotic resistence development related to the use of antibiotics in food animals are incredibly important components to having a truthful and science based discussion about antibiotic use in cattle.
In the meantime, I will continue to work on my communication skills so that you all can develop a better understanding of how I care for my animals.