Wise antibiotic use just makes sense


In Europe, antibiotics are handled and administered by veterinarians. Interestingly, antibiotics are used on organic dairy farms — when necessary for animal health — in some European countries.

Withholding times are doubled, (note: labeled withholding times are more than adequate when the mediations are administered following label directions), but the important point is that antibiotics are available for use when it is critical for animal health.

Judicious use

Ernest Hovingh, from Penn State Veterinary Extension, shared five steps for judicious use of antibiotics on dairy farms with Extension dairy types from across the northeast region of the U.S. in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., last week for an update on dairy industry and management topics.

Judicious is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “Directed or governed by sound judgment; wise.”

Judicious use of antibiotics must be practiced by the dairy industry — actually all animal industries — so we can retain the use of these important medications to treat sick animals.

  • Prevention: Take care of animals correctly to minimize the need to use antibiotics.
  • Animals will get sick, but they will get sick less often when they have good housing, good ventilation, good and plentiful feed, etc.

  • Diagnose disease promptly and accurately: The old adage, “timing is everything,” would apply here.
  • The sooner an illness is identified and treated, the animal is less critically ill, and frequently less treatment is needed.

    Early signs

    The trick is to get people who can read the early signs of illness such as changes in attitude, appetite, manure and other little indicators by watching the animals and then taking action on their observations.

    While some of this can be learned, there are people who are very, very good at this and others who just don’t get it and all the training in the world will not make them good at early identification.

    Once it is established that an animal is ill, correctly diagnosing the illness is critical. If they have a viral infection, all the antibiotics in the world won’t cure it. A veterinarian should diagnose the illness if the cause is not obvious to the dairyman.

  • Select appropriate antibiotics: Producers must use antibiotics and all drugs according to label directions.
  • Only a veterinarian that you work with in a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship can prescribe the use of a drug differently than what is on the label.

    Then, only if there is not another medication labeled for that use.

  • Record keeping, treatment protocols, identification of treated animals: Accurate records must be kept of the animal that was treated: symptoms, diagnosis, when they were treated, the course of treatment and when any withholding from milk or meat would end.
  • Identification

    It goes without saying that animals must be identified with permanent ear tags or brands of some sort. Lactating cows should also be clearly and easily identified as animals whose milk should not go into the bulk tank.

    Possible methods include use of leg bands or marking cows with chalk or paint where it is easily and clearly seen by milkers.

  • Clearly identify who can administer antibiotics: If only a few, well-trained workers can make the decision to use and actually administer antibiotics, potential problems are minimized.
  • These key personnel would be trained and trusted to follow the farm’s protocols for identifying and treating sick animals, including protocols for recordkeeping and identifying the animal so all workers will understand that she is treated.


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    Dianne Shoemaker is an OSU Extension field specialist in dairy production economics. You can contact her at 330-533-5538 or shoemaker.3@osu.edu.



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