The old adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” seems to be at play in a recent USDA benchmarking report on antimicrobial use in feedlots.

Several USDA agencies, including the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), released a report titled, Antimicrobial Use and Stewardship on U.S. Feedlots, on May 23. The report investigated feedlot antimicrobial use and stewardship in 2016 before the veterinary feed directive (VFD) was implemented and may serve as a benchmark in the future. The NAHMS intends to “periodically repeat the study to monitor changes in antimicrobial use practices over time.”

Before U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) VFD policy changes in 2017, medically-important microbials could be used for growth promotion in cattle. Although medically-important antimicrobials such as chlortetracycline may no longer be used for growth promotion, those not categorized as medically important, like ionophores, may still be utilized for growth.

feedlot heifers generic

Young Hereford heifers being backgrounded on drylot settings for a Kansas State University study in 2007.

This report was the first time NAHMS conducted a targeted study over antimicrobial use and stewardship by both small feedlots (50-999 head) and large feedlot operations (more than 1,000 head). The weighted percentage of feedlots participating in the study was 92.5 percent small feedlots to 7.5 percent large feedlots, according to the report.

The report represents data collected from January to December 2016 before VFD policies were implemented. Feedlots were selected from 22 top cattle-producing states. Nationally, 4,682 feedlots were eligible to participate in the study, of which 912 consented and 378 completed the questionnaire. Slightly less than half of cattle placed on feedlots were less than 700 lbs. and 93 percent were beef breeds.

Report findings

The report revealed that most feedlot operations utilized antimicrobials in some form. Of the surveyed feedlots, 87.5 percent gave cattle any form of antimicrobials in feed, water or by injection. Overall, administration by feed was most common, with injection next and water last. Findings based on mode of use include:

Feeding antimicrobials was the most common administration technique. The No. 1 reason for this administration method was to prevent, control or treat respiratory disease, with 41.8 percent of feedlots treating for this reason. The second most common reason was for growth promotion, with 29.4 percent of operations using this method.

Treatment by injectable antimicrobials was the second most common, with 79.8 percent of feedlots utilizing this form in order to prevent respiratory disease and 38.5 percent of feedlots administrating for shipping fever. The majority of feedlots, 80 percent, treated animals individually as compared to 14.8 percent of feedlots treating as a group.

Using antimicrobials in water was the least common administrated method, with only 8.5 percent of feedlots utilizing the form for respiratory disease or diarrhea control.

• Recordkeeping of antimicrobial usage was only put in place by 35.4 percent of feedlots that administered via feed, 58.7 percent of feedlots that used injectables, and 19.9 percent of feedlots that administered via water. Keeping track of administration dates allows for periodic evaluation of therapeutic regimens and adherence to withdrawal periods.

• Veterinarian services were utilized by almost 80 percent of all feedlots. Most operations used a private clinic as needed. Overall, 84.8 percent of feedlots had a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), but only 13.7 percent had a written and signed contract; the remainders had either an implied or oral VCPR. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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