Saying that change is coming is about as earth shattering as saying the sun will rise again tomorrow.
Having traveled around the country a bit in the last month, I have had the chance to hear some reactions from beef producers and Allied Industry Associates on the upcoming Voluntary Removal of some antibiotics and/or antibiotic claims from feeds. Removing some antibiotics from feeds is certainly a change for us. The intent of the rule is to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in animal agriculture. You will still be able to use most antibiotics to treat or prevent diseases, but using antibiotics for claims to increase feed efficiency, or to increase rate of gain, will come to an end after December of 2016. Antibiotics in feed for prevention and treatment of diseases will remain available, but will require veterinarian oversight in the form of a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). If you wish to use allowed antibiotics in feeds in 2017, you will need to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian.
Reactions to the new rules are definitely mixed. Allied Industry Associates, like myself, are typically still waiting on the final rule before making too many decisions on what the opportunities are, and how they will change what we do. One reaction, or question I have heard more than once from producers, is “What is the shelf life of CTC (Aureomycin or Chlortetracycline).” Producers are resisting change, by stocking up on the products before their use is stopped, or their availability is drastically changed. This is a normal human reaction to the loss of a reliable item from commerce. Eventually, that stockpile will be gone, and then what are we left to do?
Well, believe it or not, we will be able to effectively raise beef cattle without the use of these antibiotics in some situations. A large part of the answer is going to be better nutrition. As a nutritionist, I see the loss of some of these antibiotic claims as an opportunity to emphasize the value of increasing the nutritional plane of your beef herd. All nutritionists and most veterinarians will tell you that a top-notch herd health program starts with your herd’s nutrition program. Nutrition can’t replace antibiotics in a calf that is already sick with bovine respiratory disease, but good nutrition and livestock management can work together to help keep that calf from getting sick. Antibiotics, vaccines, and most importantly, an animal’s own immune system, only function at the best of their ability, when trace mineral and vitamin deficiencies are completely erased. Protein, energy and macro minerals also need to be available in adequate quantities. Most all forages will be deficient in some nutrients. Providing those nutrients to beef cattle in a supplement, will be much more critical in the future.
Lucky for all of us, providing those much needed nutrients in a self-fed supplement to beef cattle is a lot easier than getting a medicated feed that requires a VFD, or running sick calves through a chute. Better herd nutrition will certainly have a more positive impact on carcass quality, than sticking a calf with yet another needle. Five years from now, you won’t miss the uses of these antibiotics in feeds, any more than you miss dinosaurs, VHS tapes, or leaded gas. I’d be willing to bet you will have a healthier herd because of it.
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