Thursday, March 12, 2015

Do Your Sheep Do Drugs?

I’ve got to ask you a question.

The Boss and I exchanged glances as we instantly recognized that concerned look on our customer-friend's face.
“Did you know that there is an entire cooler full of vaccines and stuff at the local farm store? An entire cooler!”

Uh…yeah. We know. 
animal medication cooler at the farm store

You see, farmers occasionally need medications for their animals and the farm store is the only place to get them…well, I guess you could go to the vet…

“But, there’s so much!  Why would anyone use that stuff?  You don’t…do you? I mean, it’s not really necessary, is it? Why would you vaccinate animals?”

And we embark on another learning adventure at the Market.

First, let me say….YES. Yes to all the above questions.

…but, now you’ve got to listen to the explanation. Deal?

Yes, that might seem to be a lot of medication.  But, you must remember that animals outnumber people by a HUGE margin in our county.

In the Ag census of 2012, there were 137,797 head of cattle, 10,304 sheep and 1,347 pigs reported in Augusta County. Broilers and layers account for another 19,278,031 animals.  (this is just Augusta County, VA...)

Total animal population is nearly 19.5 MILLION! (again, just our county)

The latest census (2010) on human inhabitants puts our human population at just 73,750. (that's 73 THOUSAND...and that's all) 
We are definitely outnumbered!

just one little section of one little pharmacy
Have you ever thought about how many pharmacies are in the county?  Can you imagine what the stockpile of human medications might look like? And there are numerous pharmacies around the county. There are only a few farm stores in the area that stock animal medications.  And, as for the cooler-full…the medications lose their efficacy if they are not stored properly. (just an aside here for the record---the cooler at the farm store does not contain medications for poultry--those are kept elsewhere)

Without the possibility of medicating our animals WHEN THEY ARE SICK, we (and other farmers) would lose lots of them. If we didn’t vaccinate against known pathogens, we would lose even more. Not only would this cause needless suffering to the animals and significant loss to the farmers, eventually consumers would be left without food…or at the very least prices would skyrocket as supply dwindled.

…and YES, we do “use that stuff”.  I have watched animals die because I wasn’t a good steward of their health (illness was not treated in time/or at all) or I was ignorant of good health protocol…and I do NOT ever want to go through those experiences ever again. EVER.

No one uses medications without a great deal of thought and consideration.  First it wouldn’t be economically prudent (that stuff costs $) and there is no known benefit to using them needlessly. But, if the choice is medication or death, I’m going with medication…every. single. time.

Do you know what these are?
vaccine, antibiotic, nutrient supplement and pain med
can save lives when used properly

The diseases we vaccinate our animals for are very real and…very deadly.  By vaccinating the animals, we protect them (and quite possibly ourselves).  This is just good stewardship. I do not understand why vaccines for farm animals routinely come into question when nearly everyone vaccinates their dogs and cats without issue. And, while I realize that human vaccinations have recently come under fire...they do indeed save countless lives.

We vaccinate the sheep against clostridial diseases.  This type of organism is found in all of nature and thrives in dark, anaerobic (without air) environments and causes some awful diseases.

There is an ugly side to nature (all those germs and stuff) that is not so pristine and lovely.  There are a lot of things in nature that will indeed kill you dead...deader than a doorknob...dead. 

And, just in case you haven’t noticed...the vast majority of the four-legged animals  here in the county live OUTSIDE, where they also void and defecate and are not generally at all concerned with personal hygiene. We can't just ask them to stay clean and safe...germs are everywhere.

Healthy livestock is crucial to our life and livelihood and our animals depend upon us for good care.  Occasionally that means that medications must be used. Meds are never used indiscriminately. There are withdrawal times and usage guidelines.  And, you should know the USDA inspects all meats offered for retail sale. 

Bottom line---there are lots of animals, so there is a lot of medication.

So, yeah…we did know there’s a cooler full of meds at the farm store.  We give thanks for it all the time!

It’s just part of our animal health toolbox that allows us to grow good food for ourselves and our customers.

When Customer-Friend left that day, it was with a new appreciation for the knowledge and husbandry that goes into putting food on the well as a repeat purchase of some of the most delicious lamb chops that ever graced a grill.

Moral of the story:  
Ask the Farmer about the practices in question...and you will gain a whole new perspective on the situation!

**Oh, and for the record…vaccinations and antibiotics are NOT (I repeat NOT) hormones.   I’ll get to that subject some other day.**

Read the Ag Census for Augusta County HERE.


  1. Any farmer worth his salt keeps all his animals in tip top condition. Anything less would be an abomination. That's what makes our good quality meat so expensive, wouldn't you agree?

    1. I agree, Pat. And, I like to think that it makes it taste good, too.