The Responsible User of Antibiotics…

I am a take charge person.  I am a person of action.  I am a planner.  It is very difficult for me to let things go and not be in the driver’s seat.  There is nothing that shakes my world up more than one of my children having a serious illness.  I can handle it when I am sick, but it shakes my foundation when it is one of my kids.

Like any parent, when my kids get sick I have an unrelenting desire to get them well as quickly as possible.  As an animal caregiver, I also have a great desire to obtain and maintain good health in my animals. Depending on what the source of the infection is when they become sick, sometimes that involves the use of antibiotics.

I will forever remember this smile---it came after two days of terrible sickness and struggle in the hospital. When I saw this smile, I knew that things were going to get better.

Karyn’s pneumonia infection was a tough one for me for a couple of reasons:  First, she got as sick as I have ever seen one of my children get.  During the five days that we spent in the hospital, we spent almost half that time getting Karyn’s infection stable so that she could begin the slow process of healing.  Secondly, I watched as the number of antibiotics and support drugs increased steadily in an attempt to get her well.  While all of these drugs were necessary to support her and help her body fight the infection, it was a lot to give to a little girl.

It took a combination of antibiotics to impact Karyn’s infection.  When the IV antibiotic did not cause any positive response in combating the infection, she was started on a second antibiotic orally that was from a different class of antibiotics.  The first antibiotic was a cephalosporin (B-Lactam antimicrobial), and the second was erythromycin (a macrolide antimicrobial).  I am familiar with both of these classes or families of antibiotics because I have antibiotics from those classes at the feed yard to use to treat my cattle if they develop an illness.

Healthy Cattle make Healthy Beef...

The issue of antibiotic resistance in bacterial infections is currently a very hot topic and, like many concerned people, I think about how my personal choices impact the balance of antibiotic use and efficacy.  We all play a role in the antibiotic resistance issue because we all use antibiotics.  Antibiotics (antimicrobials) are everywhere from prescription drugs to hand sanitizer.  I believe that the question that we must ask ourselves is:  Do the positives of using antibiotics out -weigh the subsequent possible impact on the bacterial organisms that live in our environment?  Because I am both a mother and a cattle farmer, I think about the issue of antibiotic resistance both from an animal use standpoint and from a human use standpoint.

Here I am treating a calf that has a respiratory infection with an antibiotic...This calf is clinically ill and will most likely die if I do not treat the infection...

When I use antibiotics at the feed yard, I use them very carefully and under the advice of my veterinarian using Beef Quality Assurance practices.  I diligently follow the “Judicious Use of Antimicrobials” protocol that has been developed by scientists and veterinarians.  I believe that healthy cattle make healthy beef, and sometimes I need to use antibiotics to help my cattle fight an illness.  In this instance, I believe that the positive results of antibiotic use to cure illnesses in food animals out-weighs the very slight risk that this use will impact the future efficacy of the antibiotics.  I am very careful to use the antibiotics according to the label directions which goes a long way in protecting the efficacy of the products for future use.

As a mom looking at the antibiotic resistance issue, I am also careful about how I use antibiotics with myself and my family.  I do not rush my kids to the doctor every time they have a cold because I know that antibiotics are not efficacious in fighting viral infections.  When prescription antibiotics are necessary, I am very careful to follow the directions and make sure that I use them for the prescribed period of time.  I also do not use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, and only use anti-bacterial soaps when I feel that it is really necessary.  I want to be careful about how I use bacteria fighting products, because I know that I need them to work when we are faced with a crisis like Karyn’s pneumonia.

Getting up and around for the first time to try and starting building back some strength...

The issue of antibiotic resistance is incredibly complex and I do not even begin to understand the many complexities that go into the equation, but I have always believed that a little bit of common sense goes a long way.  If we all do our part to wisely use the tools that science discovers to combat infection, then those tools will remain as effective as the naturally evolving environment allows them to be.  We all play an important role as there is no easy fix to this challenge.  My experience with Karyn’s recent illness has caused me to do some serious soul searching to ensure that I am doing my part to be a responsible user of antibiotics both as a mom and as a food animal caregiver.

Are you doing your part?


Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Foodie Work!, General

15 responses to “The Responsible User of Antibiotics…

  1. Bill

    I’m glad Karyn is home. It also sounds like Mom’s anxiety levels are dropping.

    Anne. You stated, “I also do not use hand sanitizer, and only use anti-bacterial soaps when I feel that it is really necessary.”
    I thought it was a strange sentence when the post was covering the proper and effective use of antibiotics. You’ve also been an extremely preventative ‘cattle caregiver’ as illustrated in previous posts.

    I also don’t think you completed your thought. So… Why don’t you use hand sanitizer at home? When used at the boarding school that I work at (275-300 boys), we have proven that hand sanitizer use lowers respiratory illness significantly. This is especially true going into flu season. For example when going into a serving line, our students are asked to sanitize their hands with hand sanitizer prior to reaching for a serving ladle. This reduces disease transmission right near their food. By one measure, the implementation of hand sanitizer use throughout the school lowered respiratory related visits to our infirmary by over 60%. This means less distraction and more focus on school work.

    As far as using antibiotics in mammals, it sounds like a direct correlation with your cattle. The end goals of students and cattle are different, but the treatment seems remarkably similar. You even mentioned the class of antibiotics in correlation with Karyn’s illness. Those classes sound like they are mammal specific and not animal specific.

    And not to kick sand in your face, but pneumonia is a respiratory illness. Wouldn’t the use of hand sanitizer prior to Karyn’s illness help prevent it in the first place?

    Finally, it would be a neat trick if you can train your cattle to use hoof sanitizer prior to eating out of their bunks. I think we all would like to see the video on that one.

  2. Sue Fan Ferguson

    There are hand sanitizers that contain alcohol for killing bacteria as opposed to those that contain anti-bacterial ingredients. The anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are the ones that promote antibiotic resistant super germs.
    I use the alcohol based myself. They work just as well.
    I’m thrilled Karyn is back home!

    • That is a really great point, Sue Fan–there are different hand sanitizers out there and the alcohol based ones are definitely preferable from an antibiotic resistance stand point.

      We are really glad to have her home as well. Thanks for the prayers!


  3. what is your take on the idea of horse slaughter in US? so happy the little one is doing better.

    • Hi Ellie:

      The horse slaughter issue is one that is full of complexities and emotion. I personally believe that humanely regulated slaughter benefits the overall welfare of horses more than either 1. neglect and starving to death or 2. transportation to either Mexico or Canada for slaughter (which are the two things options that have resulted from the closure of domestic horse slaughter facilities in the last five years).

      Unfortunately, the way that things stand right now in the United States horse herd, we have a population control problem. In other words, we have more horses than horse owners that are able to offer proper care for the animals. We also have more horses than we do resources to provide food for them. Because of this, I believe that opening up a horse slaughter facility in the United States will benefit the welfare of the horse herd. That being said, I believe that horse slaughter facilities should work on animal welfare guidelines related to slaughter and transportation to ensure that there is not undue stress for the animals.

      Horses play many different roles in our society. Some are pets, some are work animals, and some are breed animals. I have two horses at my house that fall under the “pet” category, and when they are too old to have any quality of life, I will have my vet euthanize them. I also have two horses at my feed yard that are “work animals”. When they are too old to work, I may choose to send them to a slaughter facility or I may choose to euthanize them. I honestly do not know what I will do. I did once send a horse that was at the feed yard to slaughter. Prior to coming to my feed yard, this horse was not taken care of and he had mental issues that we were not able to correct. I felt that he was a “human safety” threat at the feed yard so I sent him to slaughter. I felt that this was the best course of action. What I will never do is let them suffer without proper care, as I believe that neglect of animals is absolutely unacceptable.

      I think that it is impractical to think that we can euthanize every unwanted horse in the U.S. Not only is it relatively expensive, but it is also an environmental issue because the drug that is most often used to euthanize horses is deposited in the horses muscles and organs and renders it “toxic”. That means that the animal is completely wasted and can not be used for anything. He ends up in the land fill. When we send horses to slaughter, we are able to get some very usable resources from them which I believe is a good thing. I do not personally eat horse meat, but other people around the world do. There are also many other things that are made from horse products. While I would never personally raise a horse for the express purpose of sending him to slaughter, I do believe that it is wasteful to not use the unwanted or old animals for something positive.

      I am rambling here a bit, but the short answer to your question is that I believe that horse slaughter facilities are a practical necessity given the current state of population of the horse herd vs. the number of people who want those horses. I do, however, believe that we need to offer good welfare toward those animals and work to improve the conditions of transportation to slaughter and at the slaughter facilities. I also believe that we need to have responsible horse breeding in this country to help to alleviate the problem that we have created with an out of control population. I believe this relative to both the domestic horse population and the wild horse population. Horses require a lot of resources to survive and we need to be practical about the size of the populations that we can sustain given that we do have a limited number of natural resources.

      Let me know if you have any more questions or if I have not completely answered your question…
      Thanks for following and asking,

  4. Hi Bill,
    Those are all great questions. I put the hand sanitizer comment in there to see if it got anyone’s attention–obviously it got yours!

    I wanted for everyone to think about the fact that the products that we use everyday impact the environment that we live in. The hand sanitizer not only kills the “bad bugs” but it also kills some “good bugs” in the process. As I stated in the post, when we use products that kill “bugs” we need to do an analysis of the pros and the cons to decide the best course of action. I feel as though many times, we simply use products without thinking through their total impact on the environment around us.

    My kids (like your students) use hand sanitizer at school in exactly the same way that you are describing, and I know that it does cut down on respiratory illnesses. There is, however, a trade off with their use. Unfortunately, in Karyn’s case, the hand sanitizer at school did not keep her from getting sick…

    I think that there is a place for hand sanitizer use (at the lunch line in school and in doctor’s offices are good ones), but I do think that they are over-used at times and I encourage you to think about the trade off that exists.

    In terms of your other question on antibiotics used to treat respiratory illnesses relative to bovines and humans–the respiratory illnesses (pneumonia) that we see in bovines is actually a different pathogen than we see in the human population. We sometimes use the same general classes of antibiotics (although they are not exactly the same) to treat them, but the “bugs” themselves are different. If you and other readers are interested, perhaps I can do another post next week giving more specific information on this topic.

    In the meantime, I am glad that I made you think and ponder. Thanks for the good questions.


  5. Willow Holoubek

    Excellent blog!! As everyone else I am glad that Karyn is home and doing better. Thanks for taking a complex issue and making it understandable! So many times we want to over simplify an issue such as antibiotic use in agriculture and how it relates to drug resistance. You are fostering a better understanding of agriculture practices so that issues regarding animal welfare and our food supply are approaced in a practical common sense way. Thanks for all that you do!!! Hugs to Karyn

  6. Nebraska Farm Wife

    Anne – I was at a cow/calf meeting the past couple of days and there was a very interesting presentation about antibiotic use in the beef industry and its relation to antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans. The speaker made a comment that I will have to do some more research on later but thought I would pass the thought onto you because I feel it is an interesting idea/concept. In the livestock industry we dose antibiotics for prevention and treatment of disease on an X amount of the active ingredient per 100 lbs of body weight basis. If we as humans go to the doctor I am given the same dose as a 300 lb man is (I am 95 lbs soaking wet). I remember when I was in high school my dad and I were sick at the same time and we were given the exact same antibiotic with the exact same dosing instructions. At our farm this would be the similar of giving a 400 pound calf the same dose as a 700 pound calf. Food for thought!! Have a great Day!!!

  7. I agree with you100% on the horse slaughter, breeders keep producing more horses thinking that great one will come and then they have so many that are just money burners. I think the US should make sure that the slaughter houses are humane and clean. It is much better to have it here under control then ship horses to Mexico where I hear things are bad. I do not eat horse meat either but my son lives in Germany and has had it a few times, he said is is good but the idea of eating a horse is the hard thing. My son was an army ranger so he said he has had horse, monkey, dog, snake and many things he had no idea what it was. Thanks for answering my first post and letting me run on here, Ellie

  8. Carol

    I’m also glad to see that smile on Karyn’s face and to know she’s at home on the mend.
    I had never thought about there being dangers in using hand sanitizer or antibacterial soap, though I know that antibiotics have been over used, causing a serious resistance problem. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  9. Michelle McCall


    I hope Karyn is getting stronger every day. Thanks for your interesting insights and sharing this information. We hope to make it out there one of these days. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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