Wednesday, 14 November 2012 15:41

Don’t look for a magic bullet at weaning time, focus on management

Written by  Dr. Ryan Ridgway
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Every fall across Canada, many farmers check in with their veterinarians to see if they should be using an antibiotic at weaning to prevent shipping fever.

With a new long-acting antibiotic on the market this fall, as with other new antibiotics previously, their interest in using preventative antibiotics has been sparked anew. Unfortunately, in this search of the “Magic bullet” to prevent disease at weaning, often producers forget about management.
So before you go reaching for a bottle of antibiotics, remember these tips.
Consumers are scrutinizing antibiotic use in animal production: While there is a lot of misinformation out there about how harmful antibiotic use is in-animal production, antibioticresistant “super bugs” are real and are impacting our treatment options already.
Rather than pointing fingers at who's to blame, it is up to everyone using antibiotics to use them responsibly. In the case of animal production, this means stepping back and determining whether there is a way to prevent disease through management, rather than antibiotics. By ensuring we are using antibiotics prudently and responsibly, to treat or prevent in only in high risk situations, we not only keep consumers purchasing our product but also ensure we have antibiotics available to treat diseases in the future.
Most Weaning Pneumonia (Shipping Fever) is started by viruses: Antibiotics never work on viruses. Once the viruses have damaged the lungs enough, then we get secondary bacterial infections. Doesn’t it sound better to think about preventing the viral damage? Vaccinating for the viruses that cause shipping fever builds the animal's immunity to quickly fight them off, negating the need for antibiotics.
Vaccines are not antibiotics: Many people use these terms interchangeably, and in some instances, would rather give antibiotics than vaccinate because they are confused over what vaccines do exactly or feel they don’t work; vaccines, done properly, improve your herd's immunity and thereby reducing their susceptibility to the diseases for which they are vaccinated. Increasing their immunity has two-fold benefits, preventing disease and improving treatment success if some do become visibly sick.
By improving your herd’s immunity, you also prevent weight losses in the animals that are fighting the disease but aren't visibly sick. Preventative antibiotics, because they only work on bacteria, often don’t prevent as much weight loss because they are only effective once the viral damage has occurred and the secondary bacterial pneumonia has set in. By this point, you’ve already lost weight in your herd.
Most Outbreaks are Due to A Lapse in Management: Very rarely do veterinarians get called out to an outbreak that isn’t because something has slipped. The most common reasons we have shipping fever outbreaks are:
• The herd size has expanded to the point that the current facilities can’t handle them, leading to overcrowding and stress;
• Vaccinations have lapsed;
• Purchasing high risk animals without properly preparing the herd for them.
Most often, vaccines appear to fail because of these lapses in management.
So this fall, before asking your veterinarian which antibiotic is best for shipping fever, ask them what they should do to prepare the herd for weaning. We are there to help you maximize your returns on investment.
Most often, coming up with a plan that encompasses all the aspects of the herd, including vaccinations, will be a much better investment than just purchasing the best antibiotic for shipping fever and some vaccine.
(Dr. Ryan Ridgway and Dr. Lynn Smart own Southwest Mobile Pet Care. Get more information on the website:

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