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Responsible Use Of Drugs In Treating Beef Animals

With today’s tighter and tighter controls on residues in meat and milk, we must have the utmost responsibility how we treat our livestock. Beef Quality Assurance benefits by this, and with human antibiotic resistance increasing, we as producers must be prudent in the use of antibiotics and other drugs. This article will review some areas we can all improve on and potentially save us some money if drugs are used unnecessarily.

With the help of your veterinarian, consider areas where the use of certain products seems excessive for the size of your operation. Perhaps changes to management, feeding or prevention such as vaccination will cut antibiotic use down. Cattle which are healthy, less stressed and have good nutrition have healthy immune systems and are less likely to get sick.

If we do need to treat, your veterinarian can give professional advice on the best product and dosage for the job. Drugs have all been formulated and the dosage tested for the optimal response. More is not better. This only increases the cost, withdrawal period and provides no better results. Stacking drugs only works if they operate synergistically with one another. Often they will work antagonistically, and you get less response than say if one antibiotic was used by itself.

Producers often feel the need to give antibiotics for injuries such as sprains or strains, but with many foot and leg injuries time to convalesce is what is most needed. Painkillers can be given if you or the veterinarian thinks they are necessary. If animals keep eating they keep healthy and are very able to heal. Depending on the extent of the injury, an experienced veterinarian will give you a prognosis and time given for convalescence. If painkillers remove pain, they may facilitate walking on an already-injured area and worsen the condition. Use any painkillers with caution. Without these products you truly can see if the condition is improving.


Very few foot rots are actually that. Lots are injuries such as cracks, arthritis or laminitis. Some of these need hoof care which is why preventive trimming, especially in herd bulls or cows with bad feet, eliminates a lot of treatments in the summer for lameness.

A product applied to the local area is better than systemic products. The two best examples are mastitis and pinkeye. If the cow is not sick, mastitis responds well to stripping and applying specific mastitis tubes up the infected quarters. This provides the maximum antibiotic where it is needed most. Pinkeye responds just as well to a low dose of penicillin injected into the conjunctiva around the eye, rather than systemic injections of tetracyclines. To inject around the eyes you need good restraint and the head immobilized with a halter. With practice, the level of antibiotic used is greatly decreased.

A common mistake with pinkeye is to treat long after the infection is healed. Once the eye stops running and you see the whiteness develop, the infection has been cleared. The white is the resulting scar and may take a long time to get smaller and some remain permanently so further treatment is not necessary.

One must recognize that some conditions such as lumpy jaw, navel infection, some injuries and abscesses may remain as a blemish for the life of the animal. No amount of antibiotic treatment will resolve the situation. For lumpy jaw, the object is to stop the infection and the large lump will remain. As long as the condition is not worsening, the infection has been stopped.

Abscesses, if large enough, need to be lanced as drugs won’t penetrate the capsule that surrounds them. Navel infections often have the scarred navel stump and may even have a slight permanent discharge. Scarred areas or areas where cartilage is present (such as the voicebox) have a poor blood supply so antibiotics can’t penetrate these areas very well, so it is often pointless to give them.


Whenever possible, use antibiotics which have on their label the conditions you are going to treat. The manufacturers have tested them on these diseases and found them effective.

You may in some cases find the older family of drugs such as penicillins or tetracyclines equally effective as the newer potent and more expensive drugs. Save the big guns for the severe pneumonias and diarrheas where specific products are necessary.

Do all this under the direction of your veterinarian as he/she will know the best choice taking into account severity, type of organism and geographic location. They may even recommend a culture and sensitivity. This is where the organism is grown in a lab and the effectiveness of individual drugs are measured against it. You are then treating specifically with the product that “should” work the best. Remember antibiotics don’t work against viruses.


Vaccination is the No. 1 factor in biosecurity. However, some producers get overzealous and vaccinate for diseases they are either unlikely to get, have no consequence, or for which the efficacy of the vaccine is poor. Veterinarians will select the right combination and price for your farm and will shy away from products they know are unnecessary or poor quality.

Anthrax puts fear in producers’ eyes but if you are a long ways from any infected herds it may not be prudent to vaccinate. This is for you and your veterinarian to work out.

If there is no chance of recovery, as with chronic arthritic infections, consider humane issues and have the animal put down and an autopsy performed if it can clarify things. For both chronic pneumonias and arthritis, producers would stop treatment earlier if they knew treatment was impossible.

By following some of these recommendations we will all cut down drug use and our herds will be just as healthy. We will save some money and time in the process plus it will be much easier to comply with Beef Quality Assurance principles.

Roy Lewis is a large-animal veterinarian practising at the

Westlock Veterinary Centre. His main interests are bovine

reproduction and herd health.


Drugshaveallbeen formulatedandthe dosagetestedforthe optimalresponse. Moreisnotbetter.



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