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Responsible antibiotic use in cattle production

───   ROBYN SCHUTTE 09:54 Tue, 09 Jul 2024

Responsible antibiotic use in cattle production | News Article
Antibiotics should be used only once the correct diagnosis has been made. Photo: iStock

“A good antibiotic approach involves a targeted strategy.”

In cattle production, the responsible use of antibiotics is paramount for maintaining herd health and ensuring the welfare of animals. However, the intricacies of how antibiotics contribute to animal health and welfare are often overlooked.

According to King Ramokala, animal health specialist at Beefmaster Group, choosing the correct antibiotic for treating cattle is a nuanced and critical task. Understanding the different classes of antibiotics and their mechanisms is essential for achieving the best treatment outcomes. When an animal falls ill, it’s recommended to administer an antibiotic specifically for the diagnosed condition. If there is no improvement, the treatment plan should be reassessed. Using broad-spectrum antibiotics without a clear diagnosis can unknowingly harm the herd and promote antibiotic resistance.

Steps to choosing the correct antibiotics

Choosing the correct antibiotic can not be learned in a day. It requires thorough research and understanding of common diseases prevalent in the area.

Ramokala suggests the following:

1. Identify the Disease or Condition: Determine whether the condition indicates the use of antibiotics.

2. Understand the Disease: Familiarise yourself with common diseases in your region.

3. Select the Effective Antibiotic: Choose an antibiotic most effective against the diagnosed disease. For instance, sulphonamides are effective against coccidiosis.

He advises farmers to either learn about different diseases and their treatments or consult their local veterinarian.

Understanding the different types of antibiotics

Every antibiotic is not created equally, as different microorganisms require different methods of attack. Antibiotics work in various ways, such as targeting the cell wall or inhibiting bacterial growth. Ramokala compares this to using different utensils for different types of food—using a spoon for rice and a fork for noodles. This analogy highlights the importance of selecting the right antibiotic for the specific bacterial group.

Types of antibiotics for cattle health

There is a wide range of antibiotics available for cattle health, including fluoroquinolones, cephalosporins, macrolides, and tetracycline’s. Ramokala suggests that every farmer should have at least the following antibiotics on hand:

- A fluoroquinolone

- A sulphonamide

- A tetracycline

- A penicillin

As farms grow and farmers gain more knowledge about animal diseases, they may need to expand their variety of antibiotics.

The risks of using broad-spectrum antibiotics

Using broad-spectrum antibiotics without a proper diagnosis can lead to antibiotic resistance, where microbes mutate to resist or tolerate the effects of an antibiotic. This can cause resistant microorganisms to spread and make diseases harder to treat, increasing the pressure on the development of new antibiotics.

Proper use of antibiotics

Antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections or diseases, prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections, and prophylactically to prevent the spread of a diagnosed bacterial disease. However, viral, fungal, metabolic diseases and nutritional deficiencies cannot be treated with antibiotics.

The importance of responsible antibiotic use

Responsible antibiotic use is crucial to avoid creating an environment that fosters antibiotic resistance. It also helps save money that could be wasted on incorrect treatments.

Vaccines vs. Antibiotics

Vaccines are the first and most cost-effective line of defence and should be prioritised and administered pre-weaning. Antibiotics should be used only if indicated once the correct diagnosis has been made.

Ramokala emphasises the importance of vaccinating, practising good hygiene, and maintaining biosecurity to avoid the need for antibiotics. He acknowledges that while local veterinarians might be expensive and state vet services might not always be timely, prevention is always better than cure. By understanding the complexities of antibiotic use and following a targeted approach, farmers can safeguard the health of their herds and contribute to the overall welfare of the livestock industry.

OFM/Agriculture cg

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