While consumers do not fully understand or grasp all beef production practices, they have concerns about them. The practices in question include antibiotic/hormone use, diseased/sick cattle, inhumane treatment, crowded conditions, cattle diets and method of slaughter.

Williams shannon
Lemhi County Extension Educator / University of Idaho

So how should beef producers respond to these concerns? The 2011 National Beef Quality Audit encouraged producers to have more documented information on “how and where their cattle were raised.”

Cattle producers recognize that healthy cattle are productive cattle and profitable cattle. Recognizing a sick animal, identifying the problem and treating it early helps reduce the stress on the animal and the cost to treat the animal. Cattle producers are proactive in vaccinating to prevent diseases.

They also have a responsibility and vested interest to know for what and why they are using antibiotics. Cattle need to be treated humanely. When treating cattle, they need to consider all conditions and always feed their cattle to meet their nutritional requirements.

The use of vaccines, antibiotics and antimicrobials in animal agriculture allow for the prevention, control and treatment of infections and diseases.


Without these products, producers would not have been able to maintain the level of production necessary to feed the population today.

While the value of antibiotic use in food animals is well-documented, it does not come without risks. There is a chance that disease-resistant bacteria could be developed, and this is one of the major concerns among consumers.

The development of resistant bacteria depends on the type of antibiotic used, number of animals treated, the dosage regimen and the duration of the treatment. Each of these items should be considered when treating animals.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has recommendations for the judicious use of antimicrobials. They encourage veterinarians and producers to utilize prevention strategies that include biosecurity, routine health monitoring, vaccinations and good animal management.

When producers treat sick animals, they should consider if there are other options for treatment rather than just using antimicrobials first.

When animal health products are used, producers need to read and follow all label instructions. Just because they read the label last year doesn’t mean they don’t need to read it this year.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to research their products and update the product so it becomes more effective.

Many times this means a change in the label, including dosage, withdrawal time and route of administration. If a producer is using a product in a way not listed on the label, they need to have a written “prescription” for this use and it needs to be done within a valid veterinarian-client relationship.

There are many broad spectrum antimicrobials and antibiotics on the market. It is recommended that producers use narrow-spectrum antimicrobials whenever appropriate, therefore helping to minimize the risk of developing a resistant strain of bacteria.

The technology in the animal health industry is amazing. Your veterinarian can now swab the eye of an animal with pinkeye and can tell you which strain of pinkeye it has.

They can then use that information to develop a vaccine specifically for that strain and your operation. Producers need to take advantage of this technology to determine new treatment options if the previously used treatments are not working.

There was a time most water troughs or feedbunks during weaning time contained some form and type of antibiotic. This was a producer’s “insurance policy” to assist calves in staying healthy.

While it is still practiced some, producers need to examine their management and develop other methods of keeping animals healthy during stressful times and minimize the use of therapeutic antibiotics. When therapeutic antibiotics are utilized, producers need to adhere strictly to the correct dosage and withdrawal times.

Treating animals is expensive. These costs include the cost of treatment, time and labor in treating animals and lost performance. For these three reasons alone, producers should treat the fewest animals possible.

Producers should utilize a good biosecurity plan and separate sick animals from healthy animals as soon as noticed to help minimize the spread of illness.

Records, records, records! Producers need to document each time an animal is treated. Information collected needs to include what the animal was treated for, the drug and dosage used, and the withdrawal time. With this information, a producer can also evaluate the effectiveness of each treatment.

Each year, there seems to be at least one animal that does not respond to treatment and does not recover well. Making the decision to continue to treat or euthanize the animal is a tough call.

Producers are always optimistic that the animals will get better. What needs to be considered is: They might recover enough to be sold from your operation, but did you just sell someone else a problem?

Would you feel proud if that piece of beef ended up on a consumer’s table and they knew it came from your operation? The treatment of animals that have little chance of recovery should be avoided, and euthanasia should be considered.

With these recommendations in mind, the first step a producer should take is to consult with their veterinarian and develop a treatment protocol for each condition encountered on their operation. Items that need to be included in an animal health protocol include:

  • Name of the condition

  • Signs and symptoms to watch for

  • Temperature at which to begin treatment

  • Treatment protocol including medication and fluids, amounts, route of administration, how much to administer, how often to administer

  • Stop treatment including body temperature, number of days, no response

  • Re-treatment protocol

  • Withdrawal times of all medications

  • Veterinarian signature and date

Developing and writing treatment protocols take some time and effort, but there are benefits for the producer.

  • The producer has now met the request of consumers for documentation of how cattle are treated when sick.

  • If the producer is not available when an animal needs treatment, those caring for them can reference the protocol and treat animals according to the owner’s desire.

  • Producers are using the “latest and greatest” technology available by having their veterinarian review protocols on a yearly basis.

Consumers are concerned about how beef is produced. Without these consumers, there is no market for our beef. By writing a treatment protocol for each condition on the ranch, consumer confidence is raised and each animal is treated appropriately.  end mark

Note: If you would like the template developed for treatment protocols, you can email Shannon and she will send it to you.

All animal health products must be administered according to label instructions. Photo by David Cooper.

Shannon Williams