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The Truth About Antibiotics

Can you use antibiotics and offer a superior product? Today's "antibiotic free" marketing would have you believe otherwise... We do offer a clean, superior product and yet, in my fridge right now is a bottle of Penicillin and LA200 Oxytetracycline, a 72-hour antibiotic for cattle. So let's have an honest discussion on what good stewardship and responsible antibiotic use really look like.

cowboy, cow and calf
Dana Kerns doctoring a calf with pneumonia before taking him to a lower elevation.

The "antibiotic free" movement is either cruel or a lie.

There is this perception that the ag industry doles out antibiotics like candy on Halloween with no discrimination about who gets antibiotics or how much. That producers are ignorantly, abundantly, and proactively using antibiotics in feed, flesh, or wherever. Where does this come from? Movies like "Food, Inc"?

Because of this, I would argue, we've had a tidal wave of "antibiotic-free" or "no antibiotics ever" marketing movement. That sounds nice and feels good... But what would that really look like?

Here are 3 examples of when we would use antibiotics on our ranch:

  1. If a bull cuts his foot on a rock while he's out grazing in the mountains and develops a crippling foot infection... Do I let him suffer and starve slowly because he can't do the traveling he needs to forage? Or do I treat him with a dose of 72-hour antibiotic?

  2. If a cow develops mastitis and it becomes unbearable to nurse her calf... Do I let fever, infection, and painful swelling take over her body and let the calf starve? Or do I treat her with a dose of 72-hour antibiotic and bottle feed the calf?

  3. If a calf develops a case of high altitude sickness that results in pneumonia... Do I let its lungs fill with fluid and heart give out? Or do I bring the calf and cow to a lower elevation and treat the calf with a 72-hour antibiotic?

Would you deny yourself antibiotics in any of these situations? Most people wouldn't.

Cowboys roping bull
Dana & Taylor working together to rope and doctor a bull with a foot infection. Photo courtesy of Sheridan Tourism.

Now, these situations don't happen every day to every animal. Most of our herd grazes through life unscathed and untroubled. We are not doling out antibiotics in our beef program. But these situations do happen. And we as a family believe that it is our duty as good stewards to our animals to tend to them responsibly, caringly and to the best of our abilities. And sometimes that means the appropriate dose of antibiotic to treat the appropriate ailment.

Therefore, I either omit the use of antibiotics and hide those situations from my customers, even though there are no antibiotics being used in my beef herd, or I educate my customers transparently about what we do and how we raise our animals.

But let me say this loud and clear. WE NEVER USE ANTIBIOTICS PROACTIVELY. In fact, I've never met a single producer that does... and we own a meat processing plant that serves hundreds of wonderful family producers.

Did you know that all meat is required by federal law to be antibiotic-free before being harvested? That means that all meat is technically "antibiotic-free", as there can be no antibiotics in the system within 60 days of slaughter. So technically, anyone can advertise that. It's cleverly marketing a loophole and just one way consumers are being misled.

And how can we measure "no antibiotics ever"? A farm-to-table program like ours is pretty easy to keep track of that. If we doctor a calf, we can cross it off the list of eligible beef program candidates. But the calves that do get doctored still get sold to the open market and end up in the funnel of yearling raisers>feedlot operations>Big Four meat packing plants>grocery store. They make technology to track health history, but it's expensive and most ranchers can't afford it. That slogan is used way more than is proportionate to the number of American producers using this technology.

So what is the solution?

We believe in 100% transparency. But transparency is scary. It's a free invitation for criticism. Most ranchers would rather keep to themselves and avoid conflict. What a missed opportunity for discussion and insight into agriculture though!

I don't want to use any marketing terms that are rooted in fear and mislead my customers.

When you buy from us, Truly Beef, a family ranch raising all our own calves, keeping only the best calves back to grow another year before joining our beef program, you are getting the best we have to offer. We offer not only phenomenal beef but 100% transparency into our operation as a whole. We believe in raising beef in a way that honors the land, the animals, and our customers.

cowboys laughing
Cathryn, Taylor and Dana Kerns around the campfire. Photo courtesy of Sheridan Tourism.

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