Dr. Mike Apley, Kansas State University
Dr. Mike Apley, Kansas State University

While at the 2012 Cattle Industry Annual Convention in Nashville, dairy producers from around the country had an opportunity to learn more about the responsibilities of antibiotic use in dairy cull cows from Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, DACVCP and Kansas State University Professor of Production Medicine/Clinical Pharmacology.

To begin, what is the current occurrence of antibiotic residues in beef linked to the dairy industry? The overall incidence of antibiotic meat residue violations is very small. However, any concentration of drugs in edible tissue in excess of the allowed tolerance as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can result in a food safety issue and a violation of the law. According to Apley, currently a majority of violations of identified residues in beef come from cull or market dairy cows. Often the residue issue results from penicillin (almost 40 percent of all drug residue violations in dairy cattle), flunixin meglumine and sulfadimethoxine.

“As an industry, we’re under the microscope as never before in regard to this issue,” says Apley. “We have to be able to document what we are doing and develop treatment and management strategies and build protocols for animal care with our clients throughout the production system.”

Through the Dairy Animal Care Quality Assurance (DACQA) program, dairy producers are encouraged to participate in the voluntary program to enhance and demonstrate quality animal care practices that ensure food safety, quality and value and enhance consumer confidence in the milk and beef products that are harvested from cattle on America’s dairy farms. The DACQA provides a list of recommended best management practices for judicious use of antimicrobials in cattle ― adapted by NCBA from the AVMA, AABP and AVC Appropriate Veterinary Antibiotic Use Guidelines ― to help keep food safety a top priority.

“As veterinarians working with our clients, it’s important to develop relationships with all of the people working on the dairy,” Apley continues. “People throughout the dairy ― veterinarians, workers, management― need to agree on the specific protocols and adhere to proper drug use, administration and withdrawal times. Then, both veterinarians and producers should document training and employees’ agreement to follow these protocols.”

In developing clients’ residue avoidance plans, Apley suggests using a checklist that includes treatment protocols and records for tracking cows throughout the dairy. Remember, the more details handled and recorded upfront, the less chance for errors later on. And a good place to start when developing the farm’s protocols is with the DACQA guidelines, which contain basic information on the proper selection and administration of products, proper record-keeping for the entire production system and animal care and handling guidelines.

“As veterinarians, providing only verbal instructions as we’re getting into the truck to leave isn’t going to work anymore. We need to have records that we’ve trained the crews, developed protocols and written guidelines that ensure animals are being cared for in a responsible manner,” says Apley. “I encourage my colleagues to develop a basic protocol for use as the starting point in working with their dairy clients. No matter the herd size ― a 50- or 500-cow herd ― in the future, we’ll need to have plans to help our dairy clients provide safe milk and beef for consumers.”

Click here to watch a video interview with Dr. Mike Apley. To learn more about Dairy Animal Care Quality Assurance and residue avoidance, visit the resource section at BQA.org.