The use of antibiotics and development of resistance to medically important antibiotics has emerged as a critical issue in both human and animal health sectors in recent years.
With 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year attributed to infections that are antibiotic resistant, and increasing interest from consumers, food companies and restaurants in the use of antibiotics in livestock production, today’s livestock producers are facing pressures to reduce antibiotic use on their farms. However, antibiotics remain a key element of treatment protocols for producers.
Curt and Diane Johnson are one of many producers who are using a tool from Pipestone Veterinary Services, called Pipestone Antibiotic Resistance Tracker (PART) to record and monitor antibiotic resistance and antibiotic usage, then make changes that benefit animal health and their operation’s bottom line.
The Johnsons have been farming south of Pipestone, Minnesota, since 1994. They are owners in the Fox Run sow farm and finish about 20,000 pigs each year. They also raise corn, soybeans and stock cows. They began using the Pipestone Antibiotic Resistance Tracker (PART) tool when it was introduced in 2017.
PART is a web-based system that allows producers the ability to record antibiotic purchases and usage, then benchmark their operation against others. Participants receive regular updates and consult with their Pipestone veterinarian on a regular basis to review usage and performance.
“We are able to use the tracker to monitor our antibiotic use month-by-month on a site level, then consult with our veterinarian on what changes or improvements we can make,” said Curt. “We are now more targeted in how we use antibiotics, so our total usage is way down and we are seeing cost savings and health benefits across the barns.”
The system tracks usage by purchase and amount across a total farm and to the site level. It records both the amount and type of antimicrobial used, including injectables, water soluble and feed grade products, said Joseph Yaros, DVM, staff veterinarian at Pipestone. Another important element of the program is tracking usage of antibiotics deemed important to human health.
“Because of issues with antibiotic resistance, the FDA has assigned three categories: critically important to human health, highly important and not medically important,” said Dr. Joseph Yaros. “We are now able to review antibiotics used across a farm and see if there are alternatives that are less medically important for human health that can be just as effective or better for animal health.”
The ability to benchmark their operation with others in the PART system has also been valuable for the Johnsons.
“We can see how we compare – on an anonymous basis – with everyone else in the PART system. It gives us an idea of where we stand and where we can make improvements,” said Curt.
“The Johnsons are one of many producers who have seen value in the ability to review and make changes to their antibiotic usage,” Dr. Yaros said. “Overall, they’ve seen an 80 percent reduction of antibiotic use and are seeing better performance with less medication usage. In addition, they’ve been able to reduce use of medications that the FDA considers critically important to human health from 25 percent of usage to less than 10 percent.”
The data for producers who participate in the program is kept confidential and will not be shared.
“Our goal is not to get to zero antibiotic usage. We are working to attach data to the responsible use of antibiotics and ensure pigs are getting proper care,” he said. “When we start to measure something, it is the first step to making improvements.”
The ability to Record, Review and Respond for the responsible use of antibiotics is now an important element of the Johnson’s approach to animal care.
“We’ll use the PART tool to maintain the progress we’ve made and keep making improvements. If a new medication is available, we can work with Dr. Yaros to incorporate it into our programs and track how it works,” said Curt. “We can also see in the benchmarking reports if other producers are finding ways to reduce usage even further, then decide if that would work for us.”
They also see it as key to sharing information about raising pigs and livestock with consumers.
“From a consumer perspective, this is a great way to show our commitment to animal health and that we are using antibiotics in a responsible way, not over-using them,” said Diane. “We have a protocol that we can share and be able to explain what we are doing and why with a focus on taking care of our animals.”