Did you know that all of the meat you buy is hormone AND antibiotic free? Yep that’s right! In fact, cattle producers have to adhere to very strict guidelines in order to sell their cattle to be harvested. These rules (and many more) are especially important when raising cattle in a confinement operation. That may sound pretty scary, but in reality it is an efficient and effective way to “grow” cattle.
What is a confinement cattle operation?
Also commonly referred to as feed lots, cattle raised in confinement are raised in a building. The building usually has two open sides to let fresh air in, but a roof to keep the rain and snow off of the cattle inside. One of the most popular designs is called a mono-slope cattle barn. It has one big roof that slopes one direction which allows for maximum protection from the weather as well as maximum cooling and air flow. Another common feature of a confinement building is slotted floors. The floors have small slots in them about an inch wide.This allows the manure to fall through the floor into concrete holding pits below the cattle that are usually about 8-10 feet deep.
One major benefit of this is the cattle always stay clean. The floors can have rubber mats on them to provide comfort and traction for the cattle also. Each pen can hold a varying amount of cattle depending on the size of the operation and the size of the pen, but they are never over filled and each steer has the ability to lay down and move freely to get food and water. Each pen has a water tank that is constantly being supplied fresh water by underground water lines. A feed bunk runs along the pen and is filled daily with fresh food that is specifically formulated for each pen’s needs. Heck that doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me!
Okay, so what about those antibiotics?
Do most cattle producers use antibiotics? The answer is yes. Does that mean antibiotics are bad? Absolutely not! The key to using antibiotics is proper usage. Just like little kids in an elementary school, cattle in confinement are close together and are prone to sharing their sicknesses. When cattle first arrive to their new home, they are usually given vaccinations to prevent as much sickness as possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t always 100% effective. Pens are walked at least once every single day to check for sick or injured animals. If one is found, the first thing that happens is they are separated from the other cattle and taken to a sick pen where they can be monitored more closely. Then they are treated accordingly. If they are injured, the wound will be cleaned and treated to prevent infection. If there is already an infection, they will be given an antibiotic to help their body fight it off. If the animal is sick, they will be given the proper antibiotic at the proper dosage.
That sounds good and all but how do we know the antibiotics aren’t going to be in the meat that we eat?
The answer to that is called a withdrawal period. Each bottle of medicine comes with a label that tells you everything you need to know about it from injection method to dosage. But the most important detail on that label is the withdrawal date. This tells the farmer how long that medicine will be in the animal’s system. Once the animal is past the withdrawal date, the amount of medicine in the animal is below a level that was determined by a lot of testing, which means it is safe to consume by humans. Record keeping on a farm is the most important aspect of cattle raising and allows farmers to know which animal was treated and how long they have to wait to send them to be harvested.
Phew! That makes me feel a little better. But how are hormones used?
Hormones are used in something called an implant. The implant is given to each animal when they first get to the lot. It is a small pill like object that is injected in between the layers of skin on the top of their ear. Hormone implants are used to allow the cattle to gain weight faster on fewer pounds of feed. That means less feed costs for the farmer and better quality meat for the consumer. There are many different types of implants. They vary depending on the weight and gender of the animal. Heifers get a different implant than steers, and heavier steers get a different implant than lighter weight ones. They can also have different lengths of effectiveness. There are 90 day, 120 day, 140 day, and many other lengths. Once again the key to using a hormone implant is proper usage. You have to follow withdrawal periods with these also.
There are so many myths associated with raising cattle. The only way to know the truth is to go right to the source. Almost every farmer would be more than willing to answer any questions about how they do things and why they do them that way. Better yet is to experience a cattle operation hands on. A farm tour is worth a thousand words!
Hi my name is Erin Peterson. I am currently a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in agricultural science with a minor in agriculture business. I am interested in beef nutrition and would love to be a beef nutritionist. It is my dream to own my own confinement cattle operation some day. In my free time I enjoy four wheeling, shooting, spending time with friends, and just doing anything to be outdoors. I hope you enjoyed my blog post and found it to be informative. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at ER-Peterson@wiu.edu