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

cow udder

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.

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.