Humans and animals sometimes need something to get over their bacteria

Jenny Schlecht
Forum News Service

If your family is like mine — and given statistics on the matter, I’m guessing it is — you’ve probably had someone fighting some sort of illness in the past few months.

In my house, we’ve all had our turns at being sick, with one thing or another, since about October. Recent weeks have been the worst, with my girls and I all battling bugs while my husband looks on in sympathy, his own symptoms having cleared up.

One recent day, I heard a report that almost 30 kids were out at the rural school in our community. If you live in a city, 30 is nothing. Here, 30 is a huge percentage. There’s a lot of sniffling and sneezing and coughing and misery going on.

I don’t like to run to the doctor at the first sign of sickness. I know the issues of antibiotic resistance, plus I don’t like to spend money or take anything if I don’t have to. But this recent spate of misery has been a good reminder of the importance of those medications.

My older daughter rarely gets sick, rarely misses school. If she catches something, it’s gone in the blink of an eye. So when she had a low-grade fever for days on end, I knew something was up. She likely was one of the thousands of people who fought influenza, for which little can be done unless you get the right medicine within 48 hours. But on top of that, she developed a double ear infection. So, a doctor prescribed some trusty bottles of amoxicillin, and she’s back on the road to health.

You probably see labels on meat once in awhile touting “no antibiotics ever” standards. I’m not going to say it’s not a good thing to reduce our use of antibiotics, both in animals and in humans. But I don’t think not using antibiotics “ever” in livestock is the standard we should be trying to hit.

On our feedlot, we feed a lot of young, vulnerable calves. Most were weaned recently, trucked to a sale barn, ran through a ring and trucked to our place. My husband works hard to feed them and care for them well, but they are under an enormous amount of stress. And stress, in the right combination with germs, can lead to illness, just like in humans.

How humane would it be for us to ignore signs of obvious distress in the cattle we feed? My husband, like most ranchers, is quite attuned to the behaviors of the animals under his watch. Ears are down? Head is down? Didn’t come up for feed? Coughing? Eyes running? He’ll notice it.

And when he notices it, he’ll probably use medication, likely antibiotics, and do everything in his power to get those calves back to normal. He’ll obey all withdrawal times and work with a veterinarian to make sure he’s doing the right thing. And, with any luck, he’ll save most of them.

For us, it’s a financial matter — losing calves means losing income. It’s also a matter of efficiency — you have to put resources into a lot more animals if you expect a higher percentage of them to die. But it’s also a matter of being humane. I suppose we could seek out “no antibiotics ever” markets, but how many calves would we lose before their time?

Last year, I listened to a seminar about antibiotic use in meat animals. A speaker pointed out that for the first time in 90 years, broiler mortality had begun creeping up, and he saw a correlation with the rise of “no antibiotics ever” programs.

So I’m not falling for products from companies that won’t give a sick animal an antibiotic. Sometimes, we need antibiotics. Sometimes, livestock need antibiotics. We all just need to be careful and follow the rules.