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Five Ways to Practice Judicious Antibiotic Use and Avoid Antibiotic Residues on the Dairy

DULUTH, Ga. (January 19, 2023) — “When we use antibiotics in dairy animals, our first goal is to help the animal overcome sickness,” explained Mark van der List, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “But then, our challenge is to help them overcome this sickness without furthering the development of antibiotic resistance, and without allowing antibiotic residue in food products.”
Dairy producers take this responsibility seriously, and many have strong antibiotic stewardship measures in place, but it’s always a good idea to evaluate and fine-tune protocols. Dr. van der List outlined the following practices to help producers make strides toward more judicious antibiotic use and prevent residue violations:
No. 1 – Work with a veterinarian
“It’s important for producers to establish and maintain a veterinarian-client-patient relationship [VCPR],” said Dr. van der List. “A strong VCPR exists when a veterinarian knows your herd well enough to diagnose and prescribe treatment for any medical condition. Together, you can build a program that puts dairy first and prioritizes the judicious use of antibiotics.”
As a producer, your part of the relationship involves allowing your veterinarian to make clinical judgments, communicating clearly and following their advice. Veterinarians will uphold their end of the deal by sharing best practices and prescribing appropriate treatment when needed.
No. 2 – Follow label directions carefully
An antibiotic treatment program is irrelevant if we aren’t following the label or the veterinarian’s instructions. “Thoroughly read and double-check for information regarding dose, route of administration, treatment duration, milk withhold, class of animals and treatment frequency,” emphasized Dr. van der List. “We also need to store veterinary drugs for lactating and non-lactating animals separately, and clearly label them to prevent mix-ups.”
No. 3 – Mark and separate all treated animals
Any employee should be able to easily identify a treated animal. Double marking is good insurance if one marker comes up missing. Employees should also check the list of treated cows before each milking.
To minimize the risk of milk from a treated cow entering the bulk tank, separate these animals from the rest of the herd and milk them last or in a separate parlor. “Putting treated animals in a separate pen is a hallmark of keeping our food wholesome and safe from residues,” said Dr. van der List. He cautioned against putting a sick cow back in the milking string right away, even if using an antibiotic treatment with zero milk withhold. “It’s not necessarily a good thing if those cows don’t ‘have to’ go to the hospital pen. Sure, you are able to sell the milk. However, the disadvantage is that they’re not in a special environment where they can be monitored and allowed to recuperate fully.”
No. 4 – Maintain thorough records
“Keep detailed records of all treatments given,” stressed Dr. van der List. “This includes the date of treatment; diagnosis, or why a cow was treated; the treatment used; withholding times; and who administered treatment. Also, identify the animal and record the event before the animal is treated.”
No. 5 – Remove doubt
Make your protocol airtight by reviewing it regularly with your veterinarian and employees. “Along with being diligent about recording treatments, we need to be sure to test milk if there is any doubt,” said Dr. van der List. “And, when it’s time to sell an animal, we need to closely review treatment records before the sale to ensure the animal is past the meat withhold date.
“Being thoughtful about antibiotic use is necessary in preserving it as a tool in our medical kits for the long term,” concluded Dr. van der List. “Following these practices can also help us continue to provide a safe and wholesome food supply to consumers.”
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