Livestock farmers in Georgia depend on the relationship they have with their veterinarians. Recognizing this, the veterinary associations and ag organizations hosting the 4th Annual Georgia Food Animal Conference in early May at Callaway Gardens invited livestock producers to join them on the first day of the conference.
The theme for workshops on May 4 was “Farmers & Veterinarians – A Team Hard to Beat.” Speakers focused on how farmers and their vets can work together to achieve better herd productivity, health and animal welfare.
Georgia Farm Bureau sponsored Dr. Dan Thomson as a speaker for the producer/veterinarian session. Thomson teaches at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, hosts “Doc Talk” on RFD TV, is a former chair of the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) for beef cattle production and welfare committee, and is internationally recognized as a leader in beef cattle production and health management.
Georgia Farm Bureau Beef Committee Chairman Jerry McKinnon, left, visits with Dr. Dan Thomson at the 4th Annual Georgia Food Animal Conference.
Thomson’s herd health tips
Thomson’s lighthearted discussion covered animal health, antibiotic use and consumer demographics. Thomson said pre-conditioning is the best thing cattlemen can do to improve cow health from weaning to harvest. Getting a calf firmly on its own before shipping it to a stockyard will affect its health for the remainder of its life.
Thomson advocates castrating bull calves as early as possible. He said the extra weight gain from leaving a bull intact doesn’t start until that animal reaches puberty, which is after most cow-calf producers sell the animal.
Antibiotics in meat
In regards to antibiotic use with food animals and the misinformation available to consumers, Thomson pointed out that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) routinely tests for antibiotic residues and that 99.89 percent of all meat that enters the U.S. food supply is free of antibiotic residues. Thomson said the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world because other countries don’t have the FDA monitoring their food supply to insure health and quality standards are met.
Thomson discussed the lack of connection much of the public has to agriculture and how fear of the unknown and misinformation has shaped some consumers’ opinions. According to the U.S. census, 45.2 percent of American households are unmarried single people age 18 and older. Many of these singles equate all animals the same as pets, which shapes their opinions regarding how livestock are raised.
Another interesting statistic regarding consumers is that 25 percent of the U.S. lives in poverty. We often hear the statistic that the average U.S. household spends less than 10 percent of their income on food, which is the lowest rate in the world. The lower income population of the U.S., however spends about 35 percent of their income on food, and spends much less on meat and fresh vegetables than the average U.S. household.
“Farmers produce what man cannot live without,” Thomson said. “We must regain consumer trust.”
To do this, Thomson says farmers and ranchers must be open and honest about how they raise their livestock. Consumers want to be informed, and they want to have confidence in their food purchases and know they are a good value. He said food processors and retailers must stop branding food using terminology that confuses and misleads the public.
Joe McManus is assistant director of the GFB Public Policy Department. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 478-474-0679, ext. 5259.