Cutting back on antibiotics use poses hurdles for hog farmers
BY PHILIP BRASHER • PBRASHER@DMREG.COM • AUGUST 22, 2010
State Center, Ia. - The Obama administration would like to see more hog farmers raising hogs the way the Hilleman brothers do - using fewer antibiotics.
But raising hogs with fewer antibiotics has its challenges, the brothers say. One big one: Some of the black Berkshire hogs grunting and rooting around the Hillemans' barns are likely to get sick and die before they're ready for market. That's because it's sometimes impractical to treat them, the brothers say.
Randy, Mark and Tom Hilleman raise the hogs for a local cooperative, Eden Farms, that markets Berkshire pork to high-end restaurants.
Farmers who raise Eden Farms pork earn a premium price for the pigs, because the Berkshires are valued by chefs at high-end restaurants because of the hogs' fatter, darker meat.
But farmers who supply Eden Farms cannot use antibiotics for growth promotion, a common practice on conventional farms, and they cannot use the drugs at all if the hogs are within 100 days - more than three months - of going to slaughter.
If a sick pig doesn't get better on its own, it's likely to get a shot of an antibiotic, unless the animal is under the 100-day drug ban. If the hogs are given antibiotics then, they can only be sold as conventional hogs, and that means keeping a treated animal in a separate pen or marking it in some way to make sure it wasn't mixed with the hogs that will be marketed under the Eden Farms label. But the Hillemans say it's impractical for them to treat the pigs and handle them separately. For every 100 hogs they raise, the brothers figure that two or three die of pneumonia or some other illness. The Hillemans send about 100 to 150 hogs to market each week. Read More
When we hear people outside of ag demanding antibiotics be limited or banned for use in livestock, they rarely seem aware of the consequences of those demands. The bottom line is more livestock will suffer through disease or die as a result. Regardless of production method, all livestock will be more prone to disease, suffer more because of it, and put more pressure on our food production system. There will always be ways we can improve our use of these tools, but making demands of livestock producers without changes in other antibiotic uses will only contribute to the unnecessary suffering of livestock.