Tag Archives: Antibiotics

A Tale of Two Feed Mills

9 Jul

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So I went to both of the local feed mills today to shop around for chicken feed.

2013-05-09 13.16.14

Gerkens Feed is the mill in Zumbrota, only about 2 miles from the farm, and Farm Country Co-op is in the neighboring town of Pine Island, about 6 miles from the farm.  I would love to use the Gerkens, but I’ve haven’t been happy with their feed in the past.

I thought I’d give them another shot this time, since I’m finally able to order feed in bulk.  Bulk feeds are usually easier to customize, so maybe we could avoid all the stuff I don’t want like antibiotics and animal by-products.

I talked to the lady who works the counter and she tallied up the ingredients to their chicken feed to give me the price, a reasonable $460/ton.  It didn’t take long before I spotted a problem.  One ingredient on the computer screen read “BROILER CONCENTRATE AMP.”

A quick question confirmed my suspicion that “AMP” stood for Amprolium, an antibiotic.  Normally, you could just leave out the antibiotic and the feed would be just fine for our purposes.  But, this antibiotic is part of the very important “concentrate” part of the chicken feed.  The “concentrate” is a high-protein part of the feed that usually contains the important vitamins, minerals and amino-acids.  This concentrate is added to a cheaper base grain, like corn, barley, wheat, etc. to make a “complete” feed.

You can’t really leave out the concentrate part of a feed, that would deprive the chickens of the protein and important amino-acids (Methionine in chickens) that they need to survive and grow.

The best option would be to swap out the antibiotic-laced concentrate with a non-medicated concentrate.  I was quickly informed that this was not an option.  They don’t carry a non-medicated concentrate for meat chickens.

The lady politely informed me that they did have non-medicated chicken feed, but only in bags which would be $540/ton.  They would be happy to make me up a custom feed mix, I’d just have to come up with one on my own.  Coming up with feed mixes isn’t something I have a lot of time for.  Sure, I’ve been poking around on the internet, and coming up with a few really helpful chicken feed mixing resources[PDF], but feed mixes are pretty complex and too important to get wrong.  It’s something that I’d love to devote some time to figuring out, but not this year, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Maybe next year Gerkens.


I headed on over to Farm Country Co-op next.  I talked to them a few weeks ago about bulk feed, they quoted me almost the exact same price, around $460/ton.

The guy working the counter printed me off a list of the ingredients and we went over the list.  I told him to drop the antibiotics and the meat & bone meal.  He suggested replacing the meat & bone meal with soybean meal to keep the protein level up.  I agreed. We arranged a time tomorrow morning for the feed to be picked up.



Why can’t they all be that easy to work with?

Antibiotics: good in small doses

8 Jan

Earlier this week I bought the first three pigs for our new farm.  They weren’t exactly the heritage breed hogs that I’d like to end up with, but they’re a cheap entry-point to the pork business, like a set of swine-raising training wheels.

Unfortunately, when buying feeder pigs, you’re at the mercy of the local feeder-pig producers.  In my case I got three pigs from a guy who raised pigs fairly conventionally.  These pigs came from a farm where they were raised in a barn, not a huge heated confinement barn, but indoors nonetheless.

On the ride home we noticed that the pigs all had very raspy-sounding breathing and they stunk like they had been cooped up indoors with a lot of other pigs.  Figuring that they’d been raised indoors breathing a lot of stale ammonia-leaden air, we figured they’d improve with all the fresh air that they would now be living in.

All three pigs were a bit lethargic on their first day on our farm. I figured that it was to be expected from the stress of being moved to a new place.

By the second day, two of the pigs were active and eating, but the third ways still lethargic, not interested in food and most worrying: shivering.  In an adult animal, being sick is not something that usually requires much intervention.  Adults tend to have robust fully-developed immune systems to fight off most illnesses.  It’s the young ones that you have to watch out for.  I know firsthand that young calves and chicks can keel over dead within hours of showing signs of being sick.  Much like human babies, they have undeveloped immune systems that can be rapidly overwhelmed by an infection.

Knowing how fragile young animals can be when dealing with an infection, it was time to act.  The sick pig got an injection of 2.5cc’s LA-200 (oxytetracycline)


While I have written before about the dangers of routine antibiotic use, antibiotics definitely have their place. Antibiotics should be used, much like in people, in targeted applications to treat sick animals that would otherwise die or be permanently harmed. When used sparingly (and according to the directions) antibiotics will be long gone from the animals system by the time they become food. Most antibiotics are excreted from the body in the urine within 24 hours application.

(As an interesting and disgusting side-note: the first patients to receive penicillin were given multiple doses by “recycling” the penicillin that they excreted in their urine.)


An hour later the sick piggie was still shivering a little bit, but he was standing in the feed pan scarfing down food.  By the next morning he was looking like a million bucks.  Antibiotics sure can be miracle drugs when they’re needed.

Just to make our marketing a bit easier, we will be the ones eating the pig that got the injection.  The antibiotics will be out of it’s system in a few days.  In 5 months when it’s time for the pig to be slaughtered the antibiotics will be long gone and forgotten, but we still couldn’t honestly claim that it was raised without antibiotics. It’s a shame that the big animal confinement operations have so sullied the name of antibiotics.  They’re darn useful and safe when handled responsibly (not in every animals feed their entire life.) But it’d honestly take more time to explain it to our customers than it’s worth, so this piggie is not going to be for sale.  Since we were going to keep one pig for ourselves anyway, we’ll be keeping this particular pig for our own freezer.

I think I’ll name him Bacon.

Chicken Feed Trials

20 Nov

When the chicks first arrived I was in a bit of a hurry.

I dropped by the local feed store and picked up a 50# bag of their chick starter and called it a day.  Only later, after setting the feed out for the chicks did I take the time to read the tag.  It’s a nice 18% protein starter, but it’s chock full of Aureomycin. Great, antibiotics are definitely something that I want to stay away from in animal feed.

So a few days later I called them up and asked if they had any unmedicated chick starter.  No dice.  Although they do have a 20% protein Duck and Goose starter that ought to work.
Sounds good to me.

I swung by and picked up 200# of unmedicated Duck and Goose starter for the chicks.  They’ve gone through two bags of the stuff, and only now have I bothered to thoroughly read the label.  Just the usual stuff, corn, soy, and…animal protein meal!  Yuck!  What kind of animal does that come from?  No telling, not good.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice…shame on…

Well, point is, you won’t fool me again.

I’m pretty disappointed with the selection from the local feed-store thus far, most all of their feed is from US Feeds in Iowa.  I still want to go back and double check to see if they have any other feed that would suit, but I’m not holding my breath or anything.  Too bad, because having reasonably priced feed only 2 miles from my front door is a darn convenient thing.

There is another feed store in Pine Island, about 5 miles away, and several in Rochester, a 25 mile drive. I already looked at a few places in Rochester, and while they have suitable feed, it’s more expensive at the locally-owned place, and I’m not that fond of patronizing big chains like Fleet Farm if I don’t have to.

Consumer Reports – Meat on Drugs

25 Jun

Looks like Consumer Reports is the latest organization to throw its weight behind the antibiotic-free meat. Full story here.  In their report “Meat on Drugs” they have gone so far as to label the widespread use of agricultural antibiotics a “major national health crisis.”

It’s nice to see a big well-respected consumer advocacy group like this come to bat against routine sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.
I don’t have any problem using antibiotics to treat an animal if it has an actual infection.

The problem is that most antibiotics used on farms is mixed in the animal’s feed. When antibiotics are mixed in with animal feed it’s no longer being targeted to sick animals.  Instead, it’s going to the entire population, where it will treat the sick animals, but it will also “treat” otherwise healthy animals who’s immune systems are capable of defeating an infection on their own.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don’t come from sick (clinically infected) animals; those animals get treated with more than enough antibiotics to kill the threatening bacteria.  Antibiotic-resistance is bred in those animals who get a constant low-dose of antibiotics.  The low (sub-therapeutic) dose is enough to kill most (but not all) bacteria.  Those bacteria that aren’t killed are the basis for a new antibiotic-resistant generation.

The most infuriating thing about this whole deal is that the FDA has known about it for decades without doing anything.

FDA issued (a notice of hearing) in 1977 on proposals to withdraw approval of all subtherapeutic uses of penicillin in animal feed   and nearly all subtherapeutic uses of tetracyclines (oxytetracycline and chlortetracycline) in animal feed because of a threat to human health.

Several non-profit groups sued the FDA in 2011 to get them to finally do something about the problem they noticed way back in 1977.  A few weeks after the ruling they announced a voluntary phase-out of antibiotics in animal feed.  Don’t worry, they’ve got this totally under control.

So what can we do about all of this?

Choose meat raised without antibiotics.  Buy from a local farmer who you trust.  If you buy meat from the store, look for “no antibiotics” or “organic” labels.  Ask your favorite restaurant where they get their meat, and if it was raised without antibiotics.

We’ll all be better off for it.


Corporations, Universities, and the Future of Conventional Agriculture

18 Jun

I happened across this article the other day which details a report by the group Food & Water Watch on the connection between corporate money and Land-Grant University research.  I have at least some familiarity with this relationship, as I currently live less than 2 miles from both “Monsanto Place” and “Monsanto Auditorium” at the University of Missouri.  That’s about $3 million in corporate donations within walking distance.

As I’ve discussed before, some of the research coming out of land-grant universities these days is appalling, and they know it.  While I think it’s helpful to point these shenanigans out to the public, I don’t spend too much of my time or energy on them.

Sure conventional ag as we know it may be causing problems, but conventional ag is necessary to feed our growing population; and fortunately for us (sort of) the damage is largely self-limiting.

Don’t believe me?  Lets take a look at the current trends in fossil fuels, water use, antibiotics, animal welfare, and herbicides.

Fossil Fuels: We all realize that fossil fuel prices are going nowhere but up.  And anyone who’s heard of Hubbert’s Peak can tell you that the trend is unlikely to letup.  There is a reason that the big equipment manufacturers are all competing to make more fuel-efficient tractors.

Water Use: Some of the biggest produce growing regions of the US are in quite arid climate zones. The sames goes for a lot of the grain-producing plains states which draw from the Ogallala Aquifer which is being rapidly depleted. Farmers in these regions are rapidly switching to new water-saving technologies just to stay in business.

“Only the highly efficient water users will survive and those are the growers getting on the train and going to drip systems or center pivots.”

Antibiotics: So the big problem with routine sub-theraputic antibiotic use in farm animals is that we’re seeing increased antibiotic resistance both in the animals and in people. The UDSA admits that using antibiotics in animal agriculture is causing problems.

“I believe it is more helpful to acknowledge that antibiotic use in animals contributes to the problem and that prudent antibiotic use should be encouraged in all sectors. The agricultural community must accept part of the responsibility.”

Combine the increasing consumer pressure for antibiotic-free meat with the increasing cost of antibiotics as more bacteria evolve resistance to the cheap ones, and we’re all going to see fewer antibiotics on the farm in the future.

Animal Welfare: A 2003 Gallup Poll found that 96% of Americans say that animals deserve at least some protection from harm and exploitation.  A solid 62% majority support passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals. Consumers are capable of living with a background-level of cognitive dissonance in their lives (eating factory-farmed meat, while thinking it’s unethical to do so) but as soon as something pops up in the news, and brings the issue to the forefront we see action like California’s Prop 2, or Missouri’s Prop B. We also get distribution-side changes, where big buyers like McDonald’s demand changes in their suppliers practices.  I think that 20 years down the road animal ag is going to look a lot “kinder and gentler” than it does today.

Herbicides:  Discriminate herbicides, and the genetic-engineering that allows them have, for all their faults, both reduced total herbicide usage, and increased productivity. Unfortunately, this effect will not be long-lived.  There are more and more multiple-herbicide-resistant “superweeds” sprouting in fields all over the world. Much like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, herbicide-resistant weeds will continue to to out-evolve our chemical defenses until the herbicides are either too expensive, or cause too much consumer concern; like Dow Chemicals’ new “Agent Orange Corn.”

“Most important, weed biotypes already exist that are resistant to these herbicides; Thus, it would be naive to expect any of these new weed-control tools to solve all of our current weed-resistance problems.”

Considering all of these factors, I think that the conventional farms of the future will look a heck of a lot more like what’s going on at the Rodale Institute, and the land-grant universities would be wise to get ahead of the curve by investing in similar research.


Goodbye Pink Slime, Hello Arsenic.

7 Apr

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Wow did the pink slime story ever blow up or what?  The story circulated for several weeks on farm and food blogs, and then went mainstream.  Now BPI (the makers of pink slime) are closing 3 of their 4 pink slime factories.

Predictably, the big-ag proponents were behind the curve, finally pulling out all the stops with the “Dude it’s Beef.” campaign.  They are proving what we’ve suspected all along, that they’re reactive, and alarmingly tone-deaf to the public’s growing concerns about where their food comes from.

So with the demise of pink slime one more fake-food foe is vanquished.  What now?

Nicholas Kristof has the answer, reporting Monday on what I suspect will be the next big food controversy.

Yes, as it turns out, most of the chicken you see in the store contains small amounts of Arsenic, caffeine, anti-histamines, acitomenophen and banned antibiotics.  This is by far a worse state of affairs than pink slime ever was.  Pink slime, for all of it’s stomach-turning qualities was never a genuine threat to the health of consumers.  Pink slime was offensive because consumers did not want to buy a product (ground beef) that contained 15% of a re-processed waste product without being labeled as such.

The drugs that are currently being fed to chickens are an entirely different matter.  This is not a matter of processing.  We know these drugs are being used to feed the animals we eat.  We know that small amounts of these drugs wind up in the animals body, in the food that we eat.   The FDA insists that chicken is safe to eat, and that consumers will not be subject to harmful levels of arsenic or any other drug through the consumption of chicken.

The public has a right to be a wee bit skeptical of the FDA’s claims.  After all, there have been an alarming number of recalls for FDA approved drugs in the past decade, epitomized by the Vioxx scandal.  And the Union of Concerned Scientists has consistently found that FDA scientists are subject to political and industry pressure in their studies.

So there is admittedly uncertainty in the results of current arsenic and drug studies.  The FDA’s studies suggest that the levels of drugs found in chicken (and pork) are safe, but there are few other independent studies out there to verify those claims.

If only there were a tool that could help us make a decision even in the face of uncertainty.  Luckily for us, this tool exists and it’s called the Precautionary Principle.  The precautionary principle is essentially a decision-making tool that allows us to make the best decision even when we do not know what the outcomes will be with any certianty.
Precautionary Principle

For example, lets say that you went to work and you think you might not have any more milk at home.  Either you are out of milk, or you are not.   You can choose to buy milk on your way home, or you can choose to not buy milk.

  • If you buy milk, and you have some left at home, then just bought an unnecessary carton of milk.
  • If you buy milk and you are indeed out of milk at home, then you have just averted a breakfast disaster.
  • If you don’t buy milk and you have some left at home, then there really isn’t any problem either.
  • But, if you don’t buy milk, and you really don’t have any left at home, well, that’s just a disaster.  Now you’ve stuck eating a bowl full of dry cereal.

With all of the options laid out before us, it’s probably better for us to go ahead and pick up a carton of milk on our way home.  The worst that could happen is that we’re out a few bucks.


The stakes are raised a bit higher when we replace milk with arsenic and other pharmaceuticals.  Now instead of not getting a good breakfast, we’re possibly ingesting carcinogens and drugs which could have major effects on our health.  It makes sense to pay a few cents more for chicken that is not fed any arsenic or drugs even if it turns out to be perfectly safe.  The truth is that for now, we just don’t know, and it’s too big a gamble to take with our lives.


Antibiotics in animal feed: Part of the problem.

23 Feb

It’s nice to be right every once in a while.  Unfortunately, I’d rather not be right about this:  “MRSA appears to have originated in humans, but acquired antibiotic resistance in animals”

Yep, turns out that if 60% or so of the antibiotics in this country are used for animals (mostly in feed) that’s where you’re going to find the antibiotic-resitant bacteria.

So with the BBC, 60 Minutes, Time magazine, and a plethora of scientific and medical journals claiming that we’re in an “Antibiotic Crisis” Why are we still giving so many antibiotics of it to farm animals?

The big agri-businesses would tell you that they need the antibiotics to keep their animals healthy.  The real truth is that they need them to keep their businesses profitable.  Regular antibiotic use allows producers to get away with keeping their animals in unnatural and unsanitary conditions, which are more profitable.