No producer wants to doctor an animal, but it is part of raising them. A producer can have the best vaccination program and biosecurity in the county, but sooner or later an animal is going to get sick and need to be treated.

Williams shannon
Lemhi County Extension Educator / University of Idaho

Treating an animal with antibiotics is not something that should be taken lightly. Sick animals cost a producer money because of the cost of treatment and a reduction in production, whether in milk or weight gain. For that reason, an appropriate treatment to ensure fast recovery is important. There is also additional scrutiny of antibiotic use in livestock and animal production as more strains of bacteria become antibiotic resistant.


There are options for how to treat different diseases cattle may get. For that reason, it is good to develop a treatment plan before anything does get sick. You should have a plan for each separate disease you may encounter on your operation. It is vital you involve your veterinarian in developing these plans.

Each plan should include the name of the disease, the time of year it usually occurs and signs the animal will exhibit. Signs are those things a producer can see visually such as watery eyes, diarrhea, elevated temperature and lameness. Some diseases will have the same signs, so if there is a “key” sign, be sure to highlight it. For example, a telltale sign of lice and mites is thinning hair between the shoulders.


The next part of the protocol should be how that animal should be treated. Which treatment products should be used and how much and how often should it be given? Be sure to list out the treatment amount by weight or age of the animal according to the label or prescription given by the veterinarian. The protocol should also list withdrawal time for each medication. Also, list the interval if a second treatment is necessary. If the disease is highly contagious, any biosecurity measures that need to be exercised should be listed to slow or stop the spread of the disease. These could include quarantining the animals, cleaning and disinfecting practices, and incubation time to monitor other animals in the herd.



A treatment protocol is vitally important if you are marketing to a natural or organic program. There may be guidelines for what you can and cannot use to treat sick animals. Using the wrong product could eliminate the animal from the program. Sometimes, there may not be treatment options and the treatment may not be optional, so it is important to have a plan for animals that need to be eliminated from the program. Treatment protocols also help ensure that animals are treated the way you want them treated if you are not there when the doctoring happens.

Treatment protocols are also important to consumers. While a “big-city” consumer will probably never see your treatment protocol, it is added insurance that you are not randomly doctoring cattle with medications. Treatment protocols that list withdrawal times also help reduce chances that when a treated animal is processed, it will test positive for drug residue.

Review and update

To get started building your treatment protocols, list out all the diseases you have treated cattle for in the past two to five years. Then build yourself a template with the information you want to include for each disease, such as signs of disease and treatment recommendations including dosage, location of injection and treatment interval. Include withdrawal times of each medication listed. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss and complete each protocol. Once these are complete, share them with those working on your operation and put them in a known location. Next year, you can simply review and update them with your veterinarian. Completing a yearly update ensures that you are using the “latest and greatest” medication.

Having treatment protocols takes the guesswork out of treating sick animals, reduces unnecessary veterinarian calls and returns animals to health more quickly.