Antibiotic Use On Small Farms

» April 1st, 2014

Praising the FDAs move to address the overuse of antibiotics to promote the growth of domesticated animals, the Times editorial board wrote:

Medical experts have long been concerned that rampant overuse of antibiotics in agriculture — to speed the growth of cattle, pigs and chickens and to prevent disease among animals crowded together in unsanitary conditions — is stimulating the emergence of bacteria resistant to treatment by some of the most important antibiotics used to treat humans.

The emboldened text above highlights a major oversight in our thinking—and the editorial board’s thinking— about antibiotics and animal agriculture. They are not just used in industrial settings where confinement is the norm. They are also used by small farmers to prevent disease of domesticated animals who are not crowded together but, because of their freedom to move and natural sociability, interact often enough to spread disease. In a way, this should be common sense. Small farmers have more invested in every individual animal and, as a result, are quick to seek prophylactic solutions when the faintest sign of sickness becomes evident.

Consider this account from a chicken farmer writing about her birds on a popular forum:  ”Been treating [the mysterious disease] really well, but, I am out of Gallimycin [antibiotics that fights respiratory disease], till my order comes in! I am giving the 4 really bad ones LA-200 [another antibiotic] injections, and injections to the other sick pen. I have terrimycin [yet another antibiotic] in the water now, as well as Probios. I am also terrymincing everyone else as a precaution. All are getting Vet RX [compound that treats worms and colds] at the moment too.” (1) As for concerns over the perpetuation of resistance, “I am questioning if giving her the same antibiotic a second time might perhaps be ineffective? (may even lead to resistance in the organism causing this?).”(2)

It’s important that consumers become aware that the problems that we assume are endemic to factory farming happen on small, nonindustrial farms as well.

(1) Smoky73, April 5, 2008 (3:52 p.m.) thread starter “Aye, I am fed up with the weather causing sickness,” April 5, 2008: Accessed April 28, 2013.

(2) Eprinex Questions,” various  thread started on April 19, 2007 (907 a.m.): Accessed April 29, 2013; dlhunicorn, November 3, 2006 (3:41 p.m.) comment on halo826’s thread starter “I have a very sick hen too…please help me again,” November 3, 2007: Accessed April 29, 2013.




5 Responses to Antibiotic Use On Small Farms

  1. Fireweed says:

    James, where I live on a small west coast rural island, locavorism is held up like a flag above all else. And yet there are no certified organic eggs for sale that I am aware of…or any other certified organic animal products. Words like ‘organically-fed’ and ‘grass-fed’ are tossed about though, and consumers go for that, seemingly without questioning ‘whatever else’ is involved in producing the beef, chicken, pork, lamb and eggs they consume because ‘local’ is ‘good enough’…and not from a factory farm.

    A farmer neighbour (who died not long ago, but others have taken over at his place doing the same thing) told me that the beef cattle he raised weren’t certified organic specifically because the cost of bringing a vet over to the island in times of need was just too cost prohibitive. I suspect this rationale is widespread and more small-scale farms administer drugs than most locavore consumers realize.

  2. Laura says:

    You can learn a whole lot by looking in on those forums. Not at all surprised about antibiotics used for “organic” animal products. Any place that breeds and/or treats animals as commodities is cruel and destructive despite the glazed, happy, kind, serene facade presented by such people. Reminds me of seeing Sarah Palin talking glibly, eyes glazed, as chickens (or turkeys) on a small farm were being ruthlessly slaughtered (using those deplorable cones) behind her in the footage.
    Small factory farms they are. We stop supporting them by being vegan, staying with it, and thriving… that’s why we want everyone to join, and why I despise anti-vegans, not non-vegans. The huge discerning factor between those two? If push came to shove, non-vegans would agree to ban slaughterhouses, etc.; anti-vegans would fight tooth-and-nail to keep them. They’re either in the business, connected to it, or seriously, emotionally addicted to foods. Dominating, destroying lives, and killing the helpless are vital to such people’s grotesquely sick sense of humanity. There are quite a few of such “Abels” in the world:
    But I believe they’ve been duped and have a heavy price to pay in the end. Anyone agree? Or should I just shut up? :)

  3. Mountain says:

    Hey James, the examples you linked to don’t show systematic, preventative use of antibiotics to prevent disease the way factory farms do. They show a woman trying to treat sick chickens, and chickens who had been exposed to those sick chickens. How is this any different from a parent treating a sick child, or a child who has been exposed to a sick child?

    Personally, I think the first example was being foolish, throwing all available remedies at a problem without understanding what the actual illness was. It reminded me of parents who give their kids antibiotics when they’re suffering from a cold or flu virus. It’s foolish and futile, but it’s an entirely different phenomenon from factory-farm use of antibiotics, which truly is rendering antibiotics useless.

    Perhaps we should ask United Poultry Concerns and Farm Sanctuary, do they treat their chickens with antibiotics when they get sick? My understanding is that their chickens are cooped up and fed chicken feed, so they’re bound to get sick from time to time.

    Personally, the only time we coop up or give chicken feed is when we isolate a sick chicken– none so far this year, and only one last year.

    • James says:

      I’ll dig it up, but I have an example of a vet–and regular reader of the forum–chiming in to note that the patterns of antibiotic use among the forum farmers will (if the farmers are not more careful) contribute to the same sort of resistance that factory farms do. That’s a good question about UPC, but the chicken farmers I looked at used AB prophylactically, which UPC does not do.

      • Mountain says:

        I agree with you that the examples you linked to could contribute to antibiotic resistance, just as over-use of antibiotics (or inappropriate use, as in using them for viral infections) in humans can contribute. I’m no expert in this area, but I thought the main driver of antibiotic resistance was the regular, even daily sub-therapeutic doses in industrial agriculture. Episodic use of the sort you linked to, while foolish and inappropriate, isn’t nearly as problematic as regular sub-therapeutic dosing is.

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