Tag Archives: antibiotic use in food animals

Metrics and Antibiotics…

My favorite blonde cowgirl writes an inspirational quote each week on the white board on the office wall. This white board primarily serves as an organizational tool for us at the feed yard listing the upcoming cattle schedule, but over the years my crew has also learned to look to it for Megan’s Weekly Inspirational Message. I love to watch what she comes up with for her weekly mantra – it is an awesome way for me to see my parenting lessons come back through the eyes of my teenage daughter.MetricsMeg.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, Megan shared a quote from Galileo Galilei that voices one of the most important lessons that I have learned running a farm: Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. I cannot improve what I cannot measure, so metrics provide the basis as I strive to get better each and every day.

Almost five months have passed since I wrote the Subway post that garnered half a million reads in a matter of days. In light of the continuing conversation regarding antibiotic use in food animals, I want to take a moment to share how I continually work to reduce the antibiotic footprint of my farm.

Metrics (a system of measuring) provide the key…

When I first began trying to reduce antibiotic use at the feed yard more than a decade ago, I realized that I needed to understand — the what, the when, the why and the how much – I needed to establish a benchmark set of metrics to determine our current use, and then use those numbers to brainstorm and search for ways to reduce them.

The metrics enabled me to see patterns of use and work to develop new management practices in my search for reduction.  Some of these include:

  • I implemented a holistic system of low stress cattle care.
  • I began tracing my animals from birth to harvest – working directly with the ranchers that provided me with cattle in a system of vertical collaboration. This increased teamwork enabled us to more effectively consult with our veterinarians. Together, we did additional research on vaccine health history in order to make changes that better protect our animals against disease.
  • I consulted with my ruminant nutritionist looking for the best feed combinations to create a nutrient rich and appropriate diet for my animals while also efficiently making use of the feed resources that my favorite farmer grows.
  • My crew and I tenaciously worked toward a daily animal care system that consistently and optimally provides for our animals’ needs.

Metriccalf2.jpgThese sound like simple and easy steps, but the beef chain is so complex that it has taken me most of a decade to create a cross-production system that meaningfully reduces the amount of antibiotics used on my farm. Today, the number of animals that get sick on our farm and have to be treated with an antibiotic is less than half of what it was a decade ago. I reported in the Subway post that my yearly treatment rate for August 2014-July 2015 was 7.8%.

Metrics for the seven months since then show another downward trend from 7.8% to 5.54%. I am especially proud of that trend given the recent environmental stress of winter storm Kayla. We tend to have the highest rate of sickness in the late fall and winter, so I am looking forward to seeing the 12 month number next summer. In addition to lowering the number of sick animals on my farm, our death loss currently sits at only 0.54%.

Looking critically at my farm — the way we source our animals as well as the type and quality of care that we give them — I can continually put the pieces of the puzzle together in modified ways in order to accomplish my ultimate goal.

2014_10_06_mr_Will Feed-3

As notated by the wise words of Galileo Galilei, measuring provides the key to improvement. I love it that Megan has learned the need to quantify in order to improve.   Good cattle care requires both brains and brawn 🙂







Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., General

Checking Cattle…

Including myself, I have a crew of four that cares for our cattle at the feed yard.  My foreman is in charge of our feeding program as well as being an awesome resource for just about anything else that goes on at the feed yard.  In addition to him, I have a cowboy who is in charge of daily cattle health and also another hired man (Jared) who fixes equipment, helps to feed cattle, is in charge of home pen cleaning as well as filling in wherever necessary in terms of cattle care and chores.

Riding in the feed truck with my foreman, Doug, is a special time for her.  She learns "hands on" problem solving and focus while also having a great time...

My foreman, Doug, in a feed truck with my youngest daughter Karyn.

Throughout my professional life, one of my greatest blessings has been the dedication of my crew.  Day in and day out they give of themselves in order to offer high quality animal care.  Their loyalty and hard work is nothing short of amazing, and I am immensely proud of all of them.

Two weeks out of every year, my cowboy goes on vacation.  When he is gone, I try to fill in Checking CattleChecking Cattle is another term for Riding Pens,
and it consists of looking individually at every animal in the feed yard to make sure that they have optimal health.  I view this job as absolutely critical as I care for cattle and raise beef.

Studly and I, Checkin Cattle...

Studly and I, Checking Cattle…

Studly is my partner when I am Checking Cattle as I think that I can do a better job evaluating the health of my animals on the back of a horse.  This likely stems from the fact that I am height challenged, so being on top of a horse gives me a better view point from which to see my animals.

We do not have a large number of animals get sick at the feed yard, but it is important to me that I offer the appropriate care when one of them becomes compromised by illness.  When I am checking cattle, I look for any type of bovine behavior that does not appear normal.  Because I look at my animals everyday, I have a good mental picture of what normal looks like.  When I notice something abnormal, then I need to more closely assess the animal.

Can you tell which two of these four animals are sick?

Can you tell which two of these four animals are sick?

If I determine that an animal needs individual sick treatment, I take him out of the home pen and down to our main corral area.  There, I can place him in our squeeze chute which immobilizes the animal so that I can get a temperature reading and give a shot of antibiotics if I believe it is necessary.

I work with my veterinarian to create animal health protocols which include a plan of what to do when an animal gets sick.  The symptoms displayed by the animal determine the treatment that he is given.

Jared, treating one of those sick animals with a carefully chosen antibiotic to help him to recover his good health...

Jared, treating one of those sick animals with a carefully chosen antibiotic while he is immobilized in our squeeze chute…

After treatment, the animal is then either placed in one of our hospital pens or taken back to the home pen.  The caregiver makes a judgement call depending on the health of the animal which location is most beneficial.  If the animal spends some time in the hospital pen recovering, then he will be placed back in the home pen after he has once again attained optimal health.


Taking the time to care–that’s always my goal, and it goes along with a promise to provide you and your families with wholesome and delicious beef!

Our daily check of cattle health is one of the most important things that we do at the feed yard.  I truly enjoy the two weeks out of the year when it is my primary responsibility.  I am also very thankful to Jared for his assistance with this chore!


Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., General