Reduce your dairy’s risk for violative residues

Matt Boyle, DVM
U.S. Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis

Responsible use of antibiotics plays a significant role in helping protect animal and human health. Proper training on use and administration of antibiotic products play a key role in ensuring all antibiotics are used responsibly and administered appropriately to avoid violative residues. Dairies have made significant improvements toward decreasing the number of residue violations in milk, specifically a 70 percent reduction in bulk tank milk residues in the U.S. food supply over the past 10 years Despite this, dairy producers are also beef producers and still have work to do. Dairy cows accounted for 67 percent of residue violations from inspector-generated samples across all species of animals from October 2015 to September 2016.3 Dairy producers, under the guidance of their veterinarians, should continue to focus on steps that mitigate the risk of residues to protect food integrity.

There are four things you should focus on to minimize your risk of residue violations in meat from cull dairy cows.

Involve your veterinarian in all treatment decisions. Without veterinary involvement, your dairy’s risk for residue violations increases significantly. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 70 percent of cases involving violative drug residues had no veterinary involvement in treatment or protocol development. Your veterinarian is the expert in choosing the correct products that prevent and treat disease, as well as how to prevent residues by complying with label directions for use. This means he or she should be engaging with you not only in setting treatment protocols but also in determining what animals are treated in the first place. Regular visits and communication with your veterinarian — an established partnership called a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) — allows your veterinarian to maintain a relationship with you and your key employees and have a good understanding of your animals and preventive care to provide thorough guidance and recommendations.

Set and follow protocols. Even if your dairy has set protocols, a study found an estimated 43 percent of employees administering treatments on well-managed dairies were not following protocols when observed. Compliance matters for treatment success and protecting the food supply. Talk with your veterinarian to make sure there aren’t any outdated or missing protocols and that they are easy to understand and follow. Regularly train employees who administer medications on accuracy of diagnosis and review proper protocol application. Also, effective protocols should include steps for how to give the medicine, including following label instructions, the proper route of administration and administering products for appropriate duration of therapy.

Keep accurate treatment records. Inaccurate or incomplete records can be big contributors to human errors at the farm level that can lead to residues, including misidentified animals, animals not receiving the appropriate amount of treatment at the proper time or even animals being moved from the hospital pen or sent to market before the withdrawal period has passed. After treating a cow, record all the information about the cow and treatment administered in your record-keeping system. This will help the veterinarian and herd manager know how well treatments are working and provide important information to help avoid mistakes and, therefore, avoid residues.

Respect the beef market. The beef market is an opportunity to place another quality food product into consumers’ hands, and it should be treated with the same respect we give the milk market. You can’t make healthy beef from unhealthy cows. Animals should be healthy, not simply past the residue withholding period, before being considered viable candidates for the beef market. The first step is to appropriately identify the disease process at hand and evaluate which animals should and shouldn’t be treated. Then, work with your veterinarian and herd manager to establish guidelines for identifying animals that leave the farm intended for human consumption.

Today, thanks to the hard work of dairy veterinarians and producers, there are fewer residues in dairy cull cows than ever before. The amount of milk dumped from positive tankers also continues to decline. However, a single violation can erode consumer confidence in milk and meat. That’s why it’s critical to work with your veterinarian to establish and train employees on protocols, ensure proper record keeping, and only send high-quality healthy cull cows to market that are suitable for human food. Remember: you are in the beef business, too.