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Making healthier cattle starts at conception

Improving beef management strategies at the farm or ranch can decrease antibiotic use in the feedlot.

Beef producers and veterinarians will need to make a paradigm shift from antibiotic residue avoidance alone to prevention of both antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistance in production units, according to Dr. Daniel Thomson of Kansas State University at the Beef Species Symposium at the 2015 JAM.

Performance is still important, but the industry and consumers are also talking about animal welfare, pain, sustainability and infectious disease, he said.

The beef industry is at a tipping point on these issues and must proactively approach them, he added.

As far as reducing antibiotic use in cattle, Thomson said antibiotic resistance is not about facts and science but addressing fears. Complete removal of antibiotics from use in animal agriculture would not be prudent or practical for animal health or well-being, he said.

It all starts at the farm or ranch on how the cows and calves are managed, and then management decisions made at feedlot receiving further influences the health of the calf and whether antibiotics are required, Thomson said. To change outcomes, you must change the process.

Thomson listed some current practices he sees as issues in antibiotic overuse in beef production, including poor hospital pen management and the increasing use of medicated darts used to treat sick cattle. He showed photos of such darts found imbedded in beef muscle at the slaughter plant because the dart guns were not used appropriately.

He explained that strategies that will improve animal health will also decrease antibiotic use, which, in turn, should decrease antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic use can be decreased in beef production if the focus is applied to improvements in pre- and perinatal nutrition, neonatal calf housing and management, weaning calf management, marketing systems, transportation, receiving calf programs and nutritional management of finishing cattle.

Thomson also introduced his "One BEEF Concept" that includes all parts of the beef industry -- anyone that owns beef live, in the box, in the fridge or on the plate. Along that chain, everyone should work to share continuous improvement, he said.

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