Could there be antibiotics in this meat? What about this gallon of milk? These may be questions that run through your mind frequently while shopping at your grocery store. If you want to know the answer, the person to ask is your local farmer.
Let’s look at this one step at a time.
Why do farmers use antibiotics?
Just like when your children get sick, farmers want to keep their animals healthy. The first step for your children and for animals is very similar. Farmers call the Veterinarian just like you would call the Doctor. Antibiotics are quite expensive for animals, so they are only used when necessary, not as a preventive measure. Farmers claim their animals as family, if they don’t take good care of their animals, then the animals won’t produce and the farmer will lose their profit.
The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk headed for grocery store shelves or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service, to guarantee no antibiotic residues are in the meat. Farmers follow firm withdrawal policies for animals that were given antibiotics. This means that there is a certain amount of days after being treated with antibiotics before the animal can be slaughtered. Each antibiotic has a different time frame for the medicine to be expelled from the animal; this is listed on the label. When a farmer has been given the prescription from the Veterinarian, he follows the instructions just like you do at home. The farmer keeps records of when the animal was treated and keeps track of any symptoms the animal may still have.
Dairy cows have a different challenge than beef cows, when a dairy cow is treated with antibiotics it is expelled through her milk. Dairy farmers have to keep very good records of when a cow was treated. When a milk cow is treated, most producers put colored ankle bands on the cow to ensure that they remember that she has been treated. Once a treated cow comes into the parlor to be milked, a dump milk bucket is hooked up so that her milk will be completely separate from the milk that will be sold. Her milk all goes into the bucket and once she is finished milking, the milker unit is sanitized thoroughly. The bucket full of milk is then disposed of so that it doesn’t contaminate any other milk. The dump bucket is then sanitized so that it is clean. After the antibiotics have left the cows system, the farmer takes a milk sample and has it tested to make sure that she has no antibiotics left in her system. When the milk truck comes to a farm to pick up their milk, they also take a sample to make sure no antibiotics are present.
As it turns out humans and their pets use TEN times more antibiotics than the Nation’s livestock. Farmers wouldn’t want to eat meat or drink milk with antibiotics in them, so they won’t sell antibiotic treated products to you!
Today my parents and I went Christmas shopping, since I have the whole week off for fall break. When mom and I were in our last store of the day I looked down at my phone and realized it was 3:42! What’s the significance of that time? It takes an hour to get home from where we were and we usually begin milking at 4:30. So, I walked over to the dressing room, where mom was trying a sweater on, and told mom “hurry up, it’s 3:42, we’ve got to go!” The lady working the fitting room counter overheard this, and asked me if we’d been at the mall all day? Or why did we have to leave right then? I then responded, “we live about an hour away and we have a dairy farm.” She asked me how many cows we had, and I told her we milk about 50-60. She said so only part of those are females? I then explained that was only our milking herd and we have around 150 total head of cattle on the farm. She was so surprised that we had that many cows waiting to be milked.
She had a few other questions for me, when do they begin giving milk? Do they mind being milked? I told her that most cows have their first calf at the age of two and after calving they begin lactating. I explained that their gestation period is nine months like humans, and that the two months before they calve, is their vacation time. During those two months they go to a different pen where they are not milked and get to relax and eat all they want. To her second question I answered, no they actually seem to enjoy it, getting milked relieves them. Almost like when I person really needs to go to the bathroom, they feel so much better after they have gone. She told me thank you and get home to those cows.
I realized that I’m blessed to be able to share our story with random strangers and answer any questions they may have about our industry. I think that woman never expected that in her retail job, she would be talking about dairy cows, but it’s always good to mix it up a little bit.
Today I’ve indulged in the products we produce. I had a tasty bowl of cereal this morning, covered in 2%. For lunch mom brought home dq, so of course we had ice cream. And I snacked on some delicious pepper jack cheese.
I’m glad that the dairy producers work so hard 365 days a year to provide such yummy products to all consumers. Not only are dairy products tasty, they contain nutrients that everyone needs in their diets. I’m also glad that there are programs that help promote our industry. I appreciate all the hard work that these programs do to promote dairy products to children in schools as well as the campaigns that run on tv to ensure that all consumers know about the dairy products that are offered. These programs do a great job ensuring that our industry is portrayed in a positive light, and that the consumers are able to see that our products are pure.
I think that everyone who gets to eat dairy products is blessed. They are nutritious as well as delicious. The farmers strive hard to keep them affordable as well as healthy for everyone.
Today I feel lucky that I am informed of all of the actions that farmers take to ensure that production is at its peak and they are able to feed the world population. In one of my classes a teacher felt the need to show us a few videos of a certain food chain (I prefer not to give them any extra interest, therefore I will not name them). In these videos, as well as the app with a game for children to play, it is portrayed that all agriculture today is “science” and just stabbing animals with syringes to make them double in size. They also showing dairy cattle in cubes with milkers hooked up to them 24/7, this image horrified me the most.
As a dairy farmer, it is a challenge to help show consumers in the public that visuals like these are incorrect. I do NOT hook my cow up to a milker all day for all of her life. Each cow is milked twice a day for 12-15 minutes per milking. This is to help the animal with her own comfort, not just for my own profit and benefit. Also, on our farm the animals are able to walk around all day if they please. We have free choice hay and silage available to them at all times and they always have fresh water. I give them antibiotics when they are sick, just as others take their children to the doctor and give them medicine when they are sick. Our Veterinarian even knows most of our cows by name, we care about our cows just like they are family.
When we have treated a milk cow with antibiotics, we do NOT add her milk in with the other milk that will be distributed. Her milk goes straight into a bucket and then disposed of, the milker and all other equipment is then cleaned.
I feel blessed that I have grown up around livestock and farming. I am lucky to know all of the facts and that farmers have the people’s best interest in mind. I feel that now it is my job to help educate others, that haven’t had the same childhood and upbringing that I have, how the food gets from the farm to their dinner table, and that the processes which farmers do are to help bring the best product possible to the market.