Real Cattle Feeders Explain how Antibiotics are Used

Consumers wanting to know more about antibiotics use in animal agriculture should go straight to the source – America’s farmers and ranchers. Crystal Albers reports.

Before Joan Ruskamp became a Nebraska cattle feeder, she was first a consumer with little knowledge of the feeding business…

“I didn’t understand a lot of the ‘why behind the what’ that was going on, and living as a farmer for 37 years, as a cattle feeder, I have had my eyes opened and so I understand why consumers don’t know, when they haven’t been exposed to it and they haven’t lived it.”

One of the biggest misperceptions, Ruskamp says, is that farmers and ranchers have something to hide…

“We invite people to come onto our farms, and when they can say ‘you act like you have nothing to hide,’ that says a lot to me that they do trust me when they see what I’m doing. I don’t have anything to hide. We are keeping records. We are being good stewards. We’re seeking to be as responsible as possible. We’re counting on good research, good solid research, to help us be better stewards, be better advocates, even, of what we are doing.”

The family-run business maintains a commitment to keeping cattle calm, comfortable and thriving through low-stress handling, proper nutrition – and, when needed, the responsible use of antibiotics…

“We’re all committed to doing the best we can. Our farm is an investment, not only of our economical value of the finances we have, but our reputation and what we believe as people, and taking care of land, taking care of animals and then feeding people – feeding our elderly parents, feeding our little grandchildren.”

Five hundred miles to the south, feeder and veterinarian Carter King also makes a living ensuring cattle stay healthy. He oversees millions of head in the Texas panhandle and trains workers to distinguish sick cattle from healthy ones…

“Antibiotics, just as they’re required in humans, they’re also going to be required in anything with a beating heart that has the ability to contract an infectious disease. And it’s our job. It’s our oath that we took as veterinarians to care for those animals because they can’t care for themselves in that situation. We don’t want these animals to get sick. We do everything in our power, whether it be welfare-wise, cattle movement-wise, cattle handling-wise, to decrease the incidence of those cattle that do get sick. The antimicrobials that are administered today are for prevention, treatment and control of disease.”

These feeders aren’t alone. The most recent FDA figures show substantial drops in medically important antibiotics sales and distribution in all U.S. food animal production. For Ruskamp, the facts leave nothing to hide…

“I would like to invite the consumer to come with a farmer, rancher, like me, and walk a mile in my shoes. See what I see, and walk away with a greater understanding at least.”

Learn more about responsible antibiotics use during the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s 9th annual antibiotic symposium, October 15th through 17th at Iowa State University. Watch animalagriculture.org for further details.