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The Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture

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Ramblings from a modern regenerative agriculturist 

The Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture

Annemarie Sullivan

This past weekend, we had an unfortunate run-in with illness on the farm.  Only one of our animals came down sick after some pretty brutal cold and snowy weather.

In my five years of farming, we've been lucky that disease and sickness has been low on our problems list.  Yes, we've experienced plenty of untimely deaths, but rarely is it the cause of sickness.  Some in the agriculture community will insist that raising animals outdoors in nature is a certain path to a disease-ridden herd or flock.  Their argument is that when you have animals under a controlled environment, you can "create" the perfect environment for them to live and gain weight by controlling all the variables.  

I disagree with this concept, as most of you already know.  Rather than playing the role of mother nature, I prefer to work with nature instead of recreating a system that already works. 

While there are certainly many chances of pathogens in the natural world, there is also a method of balance that it's our job as the steward to maintain.  The practice of moving animals to fresh ground, including various herbals in their diet, providing deep-bed shelter, and systems of clean drinking water are all important in maintaining a healthy animal, and a healthy balance of all the little invisible microorganism creatures; that when out of balance cause destruction.

So far, through these natural methods, illness is rarely a concern here.  But, perfection on a farm is nigh impossible, so sickness does occasionally strike.  So when it does, what do we do?  In the case of last weekend, I knew my pig was sick the first morning she didn't come to her feed.  Food disinterest from a pig is a major cause for concern!  Because I've never had illness in any of my adult pigs up to this point, I wasn't sure what to do!  

After some research I was able to diagnose her with a case of pneumonia.  I started treatment by mixing oils of oregano, tea tree, and cinnamon with her water.  These oils are sourced from an extremely careful and pure company and are known for their intense immune boosting properties, as well as being similar in function to an antibiotic (oregano).

I really wanted them to work, I rarely ever use antibiotics (only ever have on weak winter calves), but I also didn't want to risk losing my near 300lb beautiful pig.  

Here's the thing about antibiotic use in livestock, they are extremely overused in today's meat animals.  Antibiotics have a place though, and are not inherently bad, far from it!  Antibiotics without a doubt save lives.  So why am I hesitant to use them?  They're powerful stuff.  They wipe the system clean.  Not just the bad stuff, the good stuff too, they leave your body like a clean slate.  This leaves the animals (or people) susceptible to a relapse, or other illnesses, because the system has been cleared but not returned to a healthy state.  Before further research had been done to recognize the power of antibiotics, modern livestock agriculture began to overuse them with no looking back.  This had lead to the dangerous issue of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Because of my research in this field, I hesitate to use antibiotics unless I feel it absolutely necessary.  So in conclusion, I did end up treating my pig with an antibiotic.  She was off food and water for about 24hrs, her fever got worse, and finally broke the day after her first shot.  I'm happy to report she's out of her quarantine and almost back to normal!  At this point, it's important to strengthen her system after the antibiotic use.  Continuing to include various immune-boosting oils in her water, as well as the addition of probiotic rich foods will help her system build back it's healthy microbe balance in the gut. 

Antibiotics, like most powerful things, require a certain degree of balance and respect in order for them to function properly.  In the case of livestock farming, I would love to continue experimenting with plant-based oils as an alternative to antibiotic use.  There are many farms around the world who are now doing so with much success.  I definitely considered only using oils on this pig, but in her case, it just wasn't worth the risk of losing her.  

Prevention is the best medicine, so we'll keep doing our best to prevent our animals from getting sick in the most natural ways possible!

*I encourage you to do your own research on antibiotic use, as I didn't cite any studies or medical research specifically for use in this article.  These are my opinions based on my own years of research in this field.*      

Let us know what you think in the comments!   


 These snowy days got her under the weather, but she's pretty tough!  Back up and at em in 4 days.  

These snowy days got her under the weather, but she's pretty tough!  Back up and at em in 4 days.