Our farm's management practices help us to maintain a healthy herd in which antibiotics are seldom needed. In fact, none of the 199 cows in our active milking herd are currently undergoing treatment. But when antibiotics are deemed necessary for the sake of an animal's health, we have a process that allows us to help the cow while protecting the safety and integrity of the milk that leaves our farm.
Follow the instructions: Once a diagnosis has been made by our veterinarian and he selects the proper type of antibiotic, it is very important that all of the instructions on the medicine's label are followed. These instructions include the proper dosage, method and location of administration, and duration of treatment. Precisely following these steps is key to restoring a cow's health as soon as possible and avoiding unintended long-term consequences of misuse. Another critically important label instruction is the withholding period, which tells us how long after the final treatment we must wait before the cow's milk or meat can enter the food supply.
Record-keeping and identification: Our cows' individual production, reproduction, and health records are filed electronically. When a cow becomes sick, I enter a permanent notation that includes the diagnosis, medicine and dosage administered, and final date of treatment into our computer. We also write the cow's ID number, medicine used, final treatment date, and "clear" date (when the milk withholding period has elapsed) on a whiteboard on the front wall of our milking parlor.
In addition to having the cow's ID and treatment information prominently displayed, we attach high-visibility bands to her rear legs. These help us easily identify a treated cow so we can make sure she is milked separately from the other cows for the duration of her treatment and withholding period.
Testing: Every load of milk that leaves a dairy farm is sampled on-site and then tested at the processing facility. Antibiotic residue is one of several quality and safety components tested prior to the milk being transferred from the truck to the plant. If residues are detected, the whole load is dumped and the offending farm is financially liable for the unusable milk. To protect against such a circumstance, we utilize on-farm screening to ensure milk is indeed residue-free at the end of a treated cow's withholding period. We may even continue to discard the cow's milk for an additional 12-24 hours as an extra safety measure.
My friend Chris Chinn, a hog farmer from Missouri, recently posted an excellent article to her blog about how and when antibiotics are administered to the animals on her family's farm. While she spoke to the specifics of her operation, the guiding principles are largely the same for other types of livestock farms. Prevention of sickness through sanitation, nutrition and animal comfort is paramount. Veterinary consultation and oversight is crucial. And when antibiotics are deemed to be in the best interest of an animal's health, they are administered judiciously and responsibly. That means using a specific dosage of a specific medicine for a specific amount of time for the treatment of a specific health issue.
Our farm's mission is to provide our customers with high-quality milk while giving the best of care to both our animals and our environment. Judicious use of antibiotics helps us improve our cows' health while ensuring that our farm's milk is safe for your family and mine to enjoy. So the next time you reach into the dairy case, rest assured that the milk you are getting is one of the safest, most wholesome foods in the world.