My overalls and coat are hung by the door, the barn is illuminated with heat lamps and a warm bed of straw is spread out. It must be lambing season. The time of the year that begins with a check at 5:30 am and ends with another at 10:00 pm (or midnight depending on the maternity ward). It is a hectic time of the year and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, that is as long as everything is going OK.
As much as I like lambing season I also know that at some point things will become stressful. I really don’t like stress. Stress during this time of the year comes in many forms, but most often it is due an animal health related crisis. Yes, even with the utmost precautions and preparations, animal illness will still occur. That is why I am glad I have all of the best medicine that veterinary science can provide me.
That is also why the recent arguments over the use of antibiotics in livestock have made me so mad. I cannot imagine going into a lambing or calving season without antibiotics in my arsenal. I cannot imagine how helpless it would feel to watch a calf or a lamb die because I could not treat it, especially knowing that the medicine to treat it does exist.
Like many of my fellow farmers and ranchers I believe that I have a duty to provide the best care possible to the livestock in my care. I believe that it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to keep them healthy and to nurse them back to health when they become ill. Don’t get me wrong, we do our best to make sure they do not become sick. However, when they do, I want to know I have done all I can do.
We have also heard all of the concerns of the public about antibiotics in livestock and whether they create resistance issues in human medicine. First of all, I am just as concerned about the safety of the food I produce as anyone. The food I produce is the same food I feed my family and I would never do anything to jeopardize their safety. Second, I follow all of the withdrawal periods and other precautions when using antibiotics. I have the utmost confidence that the meat I produce does not contribute to the antibiotic resistant viruses that we are seeing.
I also find it quite interesting that in this time of focusing on the well-being of animals that we are even considering limiting or eliminating the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. To eliminate the use of these safe and effective medicines would only lead to needless suffering of animals that would otherwise be saved. As a rancher I cannot stand for anything that leads to an increase in suffering.
Is there abuse? Are there producers who don’t follow the rules and overuse antibiotics? I am sure there are, but I assure you that they are a very, very small minority. I am as mad about their abuse as anyone. We must find ways to make them accountable, but I am also just as sure that removing safe, necessary antibiotics is not the answer.
As producers what should we do? We need to tell our story to everyone who will listen. We also need to open our operations to the public and allow them to see that we do care about our animals and we care just as much about producing a safe product for our consumers. We need to help eliminate the disconnect between Ag producers and consumers. I truly believe that most of the public want to trust us and will trust us when we do a better job of communicating with them. We are doing things right and we produce a wholesome, safe product.
I am going into this lambing season with the hope that my animals will continue to be healthy. I will continue to maintain sanitation and nutritional standards to insure that my animals will be in the best health they can be in. I will carry on a constant vigilance watching for any changes in their health. However, I will also be confident that if they become ill I will provide the best care with the best medicine possible. That is why I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.