Yes. That is a syringe in my hand. Yes. I am injecting every calf!!*$?!
Before you scream “EXACTLY! This is exactly what I am worried about!” just let me explain.
I hear your concerns about how medications are used in farm animals. You’ve read about ‘factory-farms’ and ‘intensive-livestock’ operations. These labels conjure up images of a johnny-appleseed-like farmer gleefully running around with a needle injecting animals so that they grow big, fast and well…. just unnatural. Am I right?
Some of you might be concerned about certain medications: steroids, hormones, or antibiotics. I hope to deal with those specifics in other blogs soon. But a lot of people are concerned about all pharmaceutical use in livestock.
So what on earth am I thinking injecting every calf! I’m vaccinating. Vaccination is a hot topic among parents these days. Many are choosing to not vaccinate their children based on concern over immediate and long term reactions. But please read on if you are curious why vaccinations are essential for our animals.
Young animals are more likely to get sick with an infectious disease than adult animals. Neonates haven’t been exposed to pathogens (aka germs) so they are susceptible to many diseases. It really isn’t that different in people…. think about who gets the flu, a cold, or the chicken pox in your house. Probably the kids are sick 3 to 4 times more often than the parents.
Calves are prone to illness from diarrhea (we call it scours), pneumonia, and infection spreading up from the umbilical stump (we call it navel ill). To understand why check out my blog about neonate health titled “liquid gold”. As a farmer, it’s my responsibility to keep my animals healthy. In fact, freedom from illness is one of the five basic freedoms of livestock. Sometimes fulfilling this responsibility means treating a sick animal but more often it means preventing disease in the first place.
One of the technologies I have to address this risk is vaccines. By vaccinating, we give the calf either a tiny dose of a germ-look-alike or a killed-germ. This planned exposure means the calf’s immune system will recognize the germ and be ready to fight it when the calf encounters the germ in the real world. If the vaccine works, the calf will either not getting sick at all or will experience a minor illness instead of a life-threatening one.
Vaccination is a responsible way to use veterinary medications. In our herd, despite the cost, the work, and the risk of anaphylactic shock we vaccinate every animal. We do this to keep our animals health, minimize suffering, and reduce the need for antibiotics. Does this make my animals healthier? Yes. Do they grow faster? You bet. Is it unnatural? Thank heavens, yes! Nature gives us the building blocks: the animals, the diseases, and the environment they live in. Pharmaceuticals enable us to safely, humanely, and efficiently feed the world. Vaccines keep my animals one step ahead of the germs. I choose to stack the deck in our favour so that I don’t have to run around with a syringe. Oh yeah – that’s what I was doing in the first place.