It may surprise some cattle producers but using animal health products properly and responsibly can actually reduce the overall health costs in a cattle operation.
That’s just one of the things Betty Green has learned from personal experience.
Green and her family run 1,000 bred cows and a 1,000-head feedlot at Fisher Branch in Manitoba’s Interlake. By simply being conscientious about using the correct product at the proper time, significantly cut their herd animal health costs.
“When we reconciled our health records and our financial records the savings just jumped out at us,” she says.
Green says that experience is likely typical of a lot of beef operations. Many carry on their business assuming they are doing things properly. “Most are,” she says. “But even the best producers find that the experience of participating in a program like Verified Beef Production (VBP) program helps them become better.”
The fundamentals of proper animal health product use are straightforward, she says.
The right dose.Getting the right dose is likely most important. It increases the chances of addressing the issue that’s being targeted, says Green. “If it’s parasites, you want the right amount of product but not more than you need. That’s costly and won’t do any good at all.”
The most important thing is to have an accurate estimate of animal weight, then use the product according to label directions. A scale in your handling system pays dividends for accuracy.
“If the product calls for two doses 48 hours apart and the animal is looking a little better after the first treatment, you still have to give them the second dose,” she says. “That’s how the products are supposed to work. If you don’t do that you contribute to antimicrobial resistance.
“You may be fortunate and have it work the first time, but when you go back to treat, the animal is starting to develop resistance so you may not be so fortunate, and that will cost you more. We want these products to continue to work for us and for that to happen producers need to use them properly.”
The right product.As producers get busy they will sometimes use what’s in the medicine cupboard rather than check with a veterinarian to determine what’s best for the particular job. Use the proper product.
Proper storage.Improper storage can significantly affect product efficacy. Always store the product according to label recommendations. Too much heat or cold could make a product less effective or useless. It’s a waste when a $125 bottle of product freezes because you forgot to move it.
Proper application.Producers need to administer products correctly. A product given intramuscularly (in the muscle), or subcutaneously (under the skin) will be absorbed at different rates into the animal’s system. So products need to be administered according to label directions. A difference in withdrawal times between intramuscular and subcutaneous injections needs attention or there could be a potential residue.
Does the syringe deliver properly?
“Here’s a simple way one producer tested calibration of the syringe,” says Green. “Fill the syringe with water. If it’s a 10-cc syringe, set the dose at two cc and squirt five times. The syringe should be empty. Then refill the syringe with water and set the dose at five cc. Squirt twice and the syringe should be empty.
“With that test you can be quite confident your syringe is working properly,” she says.
Some producers also count the number of head vaccinated for a 10-dose bottle. A little bit left over may be okay but a lot left over may mean they don’t receive the immune boost needed and then money is wasted.
Why write things down?
It takes work to keep good records and it’s a fair question for producers to ask, “Is this effort really worth it?”
“Ultimately, we’re working with food so it’s important to know exactly what happens when we are working with chemicals,” says Green. “That includes antibiotics, vaccines, water medications or topical treatments. We want to accurately predict when the chemicals were used by the animal and that the product has been absorbed properly.
“Writing it down so we know when the product was administered and when the withdrawal period is over, is the first step and best way to ensure we are dealing with food hazards properly. Medications in feed or water can easily be overlooked when rushing to ship cattle. There may be a withdrawal time so remember to check the right record.”
Records also help you or your veterinarian decide on which products work or where a change might improve the cost: benefit ratio.
It’s all about improvement
Beef producers are very proud people and they want to be doing the right things, says Green. Administering drugs properly means they are doing the right thing for their animals and producing a safe food product, and that’s what’s really important to producers.
“That’s the same whether you have 10 animals or several thousand,” she says.