The public health implications of antibiotic use in dairy cattle and management strategies to ensure their judicious use

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Virginia Tech


Dairy producers have used antibiotics as part of their on-farm management practices for decades. Antibiotics cure bacterial infections by killing or injuring the bacteria responsible for causing the infection, and can be a useful tool in treating a wide variety of cattle illnesses, from mammary gland infections (mastitis) to infections resulting from retained placentas among a myriad of other dairy cattle illnesses. And when used properly, antibiotics can be a valuable tool for dairy producers to treat ill animals. But the dairy farm landscape has changed drastically, with dairy producers managing larger herds of cattle to maximize milk production and ultimately profits. Larger herds are more difficult to manage and monitor, and subsequently the focus diverts from management at the cow level and preventing cattle illnesses and evolves into waiting for cattle to become ill and then treating them accordingly. Consequently, dairy producers may rely more heavily on antibiotics, thereby increasing the risk of antibiotic residues in the milk they sell. Misuse and over-use of antibiotics on dairy farms could have serious public health implications if solutions are not sought to minimize their use on the farm—especially ―extra-label use. The minimization of antibiotic use and the prevention of antibiotic residues must begin on the farm through more intensive management practices at the cow level that emphasize disease prevention through proper animal husbandry and management.



dairy production, antibiotics, public health, management