Calving season can be a stressful time for cattle producers and the new prescription rules may add to that stress. Producers used to be able to purchase antibiotics to treat their livestock over the counter, but now they must have a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. These changes came into effect on Dec. 1, and apply to all medically important antibiotics, including penicillin.

Beginning in early January, Darryl Shuttleworth calves out 180-head of cattle on his farm near Balzac, Alta. When one of the 180 calves get sick, he used to be able to treat it right away, but now that isn’t the case. He must first contact a veterinarian and the new prescription rules have veterinarians busier than ever.

“We might phone him say at eight, or nine o’clock in the morning and if he’s busy we might not hear from him until noon,” says Shuttleworth. “Before, we’d be able to go to the local store, pick up what we need and have it in the animal by 9:30.”

The new prescription rules are part of a nation-wide effort to reduce antibiotic resistance. Herman Barkema, a professor in the faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, says that antibiotic resistance is a serious issue.

“We are really afraid that what we call this, ‘slow tsunami’ will happen where we can not treat humans anymore for common infections,” says Barkema.

When antibiotics are used indiscriminately, some of the bugs will not be sensitive to the antibiotic and will survive. The concern is that antibiotics will no longer work when the bugs are not sensitive and cannot be killed. Because of this, Barkema says antibiotics that are critical for human use shouldn’t be used to treat livestock.

“We should not use those in animals, only when we really get into a situation where we need to do it to save the animal.”

The concern is that resistant bacteria may pass from livestock to humans where it could threaten the treatment of human sickness and disease. Research states that resistant bacteria could be transferred to humans through food consumption, as well as direct or indirect contact.

According to Shuttleworth, some of the “safer” drugs that aren’t as important for human use are more potent and expensive.

“We used to be able to buy simpler drugs at the local Co-op, or UFA,” says Shuttleworth. “At the clinics right now, they don’t want to sell you those simple drugs.”

University of Calgary professor talks about why new antibiotic prescription rules for livestock producers are crucial to human health. Produced by Brittany Willsie

An important step to avoiding antibiotic use is to practice IPC, infection prevention and control. This is done by maintaining good management of livestock which can prevent sickness and disease.

“If we do the right thing with using vaccines and with housing, so that cows are not bombarded with bacteria, or viruses or any agent that makes them sick, then we are preventing the use of antibiotics and with that, also the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance,” says Barkema.

Management is also an important factor in preventing antibiotic resistance in the treatment of other livestock animals, like dairy cattle. For dairy cattle, the drying off period is an important part in the lactation cycle that is often aided by administering antibiotics. By increasing the management of dry cows, blanket dry cow treatment can be stopped.

“Within Canada, we can learn a lot from the farms that hardly use antibiotics, that’s only when they really need it, and that’s the organic dairy farms. So, the conventional dairy farmers can learn from the good organic farms. And most of the organic farms are very good,” says Barkema.

Barkema is currently studying selective dry cow treatment. In the selective dry cow treatment study, it will need to be determined which cows don’t need antibiotics while drying off and which cows do, as well as which farms are able to do selective dry cow treatment.

Barkema says that farmers use antibiotics to take care of their animals and although farmers and veterinarians may not agree with the prescription rules, we all need to do the right thing.

“A farmer is not a farmer to make money. A farmer is a farmer because of what he or she does … taking care of their animals and taking care of the land. The stewardship that they feel very deeply inside. So, if they use antibiotics, they will do it so that the animals don’t get sick. And sometimes we need to help them and show them that there are other ways of doing it.”

Editor: Matt Hull |

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