There's so much controversy surrounding antibiotics in livestock production now, and so much argument, and so much denial. So, here's the God's honest truth- for 8 weeks a year some of our sheep are on drugs.
Now, before you get too worried, let me explain. None of our animals destined for your plate get any fed antibiotics. None of our animals ever get antibiotics to help them gain weight that little bit faster. WE ONLY EVER MEDICATE ANIMALS THAT WILL DIE WITHOUT IT.
But, we've had a problem with our ewes contracting a bacteria that will kill their lambs. Usually after a ewe has had it once, she will be immune and have no problem with it, but the bacteria can keep living in her, in our barns, and in the soil. Every year we have new, young ewes come along. See the problem? The two years we lambed without medicating we lost >40% of our lambs to either stillbirth or being born so small and sickly that they died within the first week.
Obviously this is a hideous situation, not only financially, but because we do love our animals. One of our best ewes lost her lambs two years in a row and became what I can only describe as depressed. Getting up every morning knowing that the joy of finding new lambs is very likely to be tainted by finding dead or dying lambs is horrifying. Also, the bacteria that causes these problems can cause the same problems in human women if they come in contact with "lambing byproducts". With our current family situation that's a huge problem.
The answer? Drugs. More specifically, 80 mg of chlortetracycline per ewe per day for 8 weeks before lambing. I know this sounds like a lot, but it works out to 9.9/1000th of a pound of medication over the duration of treatment. With the new USDA regulations, we have to discuss this plan of treatment with our veterinarian and have a printed prescription to buy the medicated feed. We work closely with our vets at South Winn Vet Clinic to reduce the amount of medication any of our animals get, while making sure that we provide the very best care and safety for our animals, family, and customers that we can.
Hopefully this explains why we will never say that antibiotics never have a place in livestock production. We don't feed any growth promotants because we like the meat that our current way of doing things provides, and we don't like treating animals that aren't sick. However, there needs to be a lot more clarity and precision in our discussions with customers, producers, and regulators about how, when, and why we treat animals. I don't believe there are any producers out there just dumping antibiotics in to their livestock, if for no other reason than that medication is expensive. But maybe there are places that we could change production practices or consumer expectations to make it possible to reduce how many interventions we use.