The Truth About Antibiotics in Milk

milk in a bottleConsumers are increasingly worried about what they eat and drink. One of the main concerns is if there are antibiotics present in milk. I, and dairy farmers in the U.S., can guarantee that there are NO antibiotics present in the milk we buy from the grocery store. How? Let me tell you.

 

Testing

The FDA has strict rules about antibiotic residues, because of this milk is tested multiple times. At the farm and on the truck. If there are even trace amounts of antibiotics found on one tractor-trailer of milk, the entire truckload will be discarded. If this happens the farm has to pay upwards of $10,000 for the discarded milk. There is also a time period where the milk at the farm will not be picked up until the FDA has inspected the farm and ran tests.

So antibiotics in milk is detrimental to one farmer’s bank account, but also to their reputation and to other farmers. Most tractor-trailers transport milk from multiple farms, so it’s not just one person’s livelihood being thrown away, it’s multiple. This is incentive for farmers to test their own milk at the farm and follow protocol to prevent antibiotic residues.

On-farm prevention

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Cow being milked at Gilmer Dairy Farm

There are also protocols on individual dairy farms that prevent antibiotics from getting in our milk supply. Detailed records must be kept so that all employees know which cows are receiving antibiotics. Those cows are then milked into a separate tank, sometimes called a dump tank, for a specific period of time. That time frame is called the withdrawal period, or how long it takes medicine to leave an animal’s system.

All farmers follow the posted withdrawal period to make sure that the antibiotic is completely out of their system before they put the milk in the regular tank. Some farmers even wait a few more days just to be safe and then run a test to check for antibiotic residues. Dairy farmers drink the milk the produce, just like you do, so they want it to be as safe as possible for their families and yours.

Why use antibiotics?

Cow udder with mastitis

Cow udder with mastitis.

You may be wondering if it is so much work, time and potential money why even use antibiotics. Well because farmers love their cows and want them to be happy and healthy If you or your child is sick what do you do? Usually you go to the doctor and get antibiotics. Why? Because you don’t want to be sick anymore. The same is true for these cows. The dairy farmer would much rather put in the effort to milk into separate tanks and test for antibiotic residue than see their cows in terrible pain from a treatable disease.

One common disease that occurs in dairy cattle is mastitis. Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland in the udder, typically due to bacterial infection. The only way to treat mastitis is through antibiotics. Respiratory diseases are also common and can be fatal if left untreated.

You don’t have to worry about antibiotics being in the milk we buy from the grocery store, the FDA and dairy farmers make sure that’s not a problem.

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The Truth About Feedlots

Feedlots are depicted as gross, dirty, small and dangerous. That is not the case at all.A feedlot is a type of animal feeding operation, or AFO. Feedlots actually allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space per animal. This may not sound like a lot, but cattle are gregarious animals. They enjoy the company of other animals. Even cattle in large pastures will group together.

How confining are feedlots?Feedlot pens allow for 125 to 250 square feet of space for animal

Here are some numbers that a farmer who runs a concentrated animal feeding operation calculated.

New York City, NY spans 302.64 square miles and is home to 8,405,837 people which equals 27,775 people per square mile.

Manhattan, New York spans 22.96 square miles and is home to 1,626,159 people which equals 70,825 people per square mile.

The feedlot portion of her farm spans 0.156 square miles and is home to 2,772 bovines which equals 17,769 cattle per square mile.

Cattle are more confined in a feedlot than they would be in a pasture, but that does not automatically mean that they are unhappy and unhealthy.

Why/How are feedlots used?

A feedlot in Texas

A feedlot in Texas.

Feedlots are used to help cattle put on weight quickly. At feedlots cattle are fed grain with varying levels of protein that are adjusted over time. The lowest level of protein and grain is fed when the cattle first come into the feed yard. This provides the cattle’s digestive system with time to adjust to their new diet. This is necessary, not because grain is bad for a cow’s diet, but because completely changing a diet in any animal, including humans, can be unhealthy.

This type of diet allows the cattle to grow quicker than if they had lived off grass for the rest of their life. This provides for the delicious marbling that we love in our steaks. How is this possible? Because “..we focus on providing a readily digestible, high-energy diet; reducing the amount of energy expended to find food, directing more toward growth, and managing the cattle to minimize stress and health problems,” explain Ryan Goodman, in his blog.

The cattle that come to feedlots come from green pastures. That means that all cattle are grass-fed at one time, they just are not finished on grass.

How are cattle treated? Cow horses in a feedlot.

Cattle are not abused at feedlots, they are actually cared for extremely well. In feedlots there are cowboys whose only job is riding around and checking each pen multiple times a day. This means that cattle in feedlots are constantly being looked at, so if any problem arises it is easily noticed and fixed. Some people might even argue that cattle are treated better in feedlots, because they have constant supervision and care.

I have personally seen many feed yards, mainly out west, that proved to me they’re similar to other farmers and ranchers; they care for their cattle every day, no matter the weather.

If you are interested in touring a cattle feedlot, feel free to contact me and I will put you in contact with someone that can help. Or you can visit this website for a virtual tour! After seeing the truth about feedlots, first-hand or virtually, I hope you better understand why and how they are used. Just because there is a higher concentration of animals does not mean that abuse occurs. 

The Truth About Beef Byproducts

What exactly is a byproduct? A byproduct is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacturing or synthesis of something else.
So what does that mean for the beef industry? It means that once we have the meat (which is the main reason we raise cattle) the “leftover parts” can be made into other products.

If you have a beef animal that weighs 1,000 pounds, 640 pounds of the animal will be used for meat products, such as steaks, roasts and hamburgers. This means 64% of the animal is used for meat. However, 99% of the cow is utilized for meat and other products. This makes the beef industry more sustainable because it uses as much of each cow as possible.

There are three categories of animal by-products: edible, inedible, and medicinal.

EDIBLE

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Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Gelatin, what makes Jello, is also a beef byproduct. It is made from the connective tissue of the animal. Other products that contain gelatin might also include gum, fruit snacks, and even marshmallows! Fat from the animal create oleo stock and oleo oil for margarine and shortening.

INEDIBLE

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Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

You probably use at least one item containing inedible beef by-products every day. Leather is a good example of an inedible beef byproduct. It is made from the cow hide and is used to make other byproducts. A lot can be made from 1 cow hide, 12 basketballs or 144 baseballs
or 20 footballs or 18 volleyballs or 18 soccer balls or 12 baseball gloves. Industrial oils and lubricants, soaps, lipsticks, deodorant, and many other items are produced from the inedible fats from beef.

MEDICINAL

More than 100 individual drugs include beef byproducts. The medicines can help make childbirth safer, can settle an upset stomach, can prevent blood clots, control anemia, and help relieve asthma symptoms. Antirejection drugs, which are used when a person has a transplant to help the body accept the new organ, come from animal byproducts. Insulin, which is used 1.25 million people daily in the United States, can come from livestock or be synthetically produced. It takes the pancreases from 26 cattle to provide enough insulin to keep one diabetic person alive for a year.

So “Where’s the Beef?”

So when people ask you where’s the beef, you will know the truth, it is in more places than just your fridge or on your plate. It is in hospitals, drug stores, helping your car run better, sporting goods, art supply shops, soap, and many other things.

A Dairy Misconception: Malnourished Cows

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Finding these cows similarities, could be difficult but finding the differences are very easy. As for similarities: they are both female cattle (cows) that have calved semi recently. It is obvious in the picture in the right of the Hereford because she has a calf beside her, in the picture of the Jersey (on the left) there is no calf but you can tell that she has calved somewhat recently because of her large udder.

As for the differences, their builds contrast one another. The Jersey on the left looks skinny, as her hip bones and ribs are showing. The Hereford is very stoutly built, she has adequate rib shape and depth. The Hereford is nursing a calf at her side, but produces less milk than the Jersey. Lactation in any animal, including humans, is the single most energy demanding activity.  Hereford cattle produce about 10-12 pounds of milk a day, while Jersey cattle produce around 50 pounds a day, which takes 10x more of the cows energy. The more energy spent to produce milk is less energy that will be used to produce meat. This does not mean that the Jersey is malnourished!! As a dairy cow she just has a different body type than beef cattle. This difference in body type is because of each cows purpose.

A dairy cow being skinny is not her being malnourished, it is actually called dairy characteristics. Dairy cattle are supposed to produce milk, so they expend a lot of energy doing just that. “Producing milk and growing body tissue are different physiological processes, under different controls” says Dr. Keith Cummins a retired dairy professor from Auburn University.

I hope the next time you see a a dairy cow, either in person or in a picture you will better understand why she looks “malnourished” and understand that she is not, she is actually a perfectly healthy cow that is working very hard to produce milk for you and your family.