When food animals are given medication, it takes a certain amount of time for the body to break down the medication and eliminate it. During that period, the animal should not enter the food chain.
Different drugs and medications have different withdrawal times (on the label) before slaughter. This waiting time is designed to make sure any residue in the meat is below the FDA’s maximum residue limit. Producers need a way to keep track of withdrawal time for each animal treated.
Rachel Endecott, extension beef cattle specialist, Montana State University, says many producers use the old-fashioned, write-it-down system, and this works if cattle have individual identification numbers. Writing it on the kitchen calendar works if that’s something you look at all the time.
“It also helps to have written documentation at the chute, or a notebook you carry when doctoring cattle in pastures,” says Heidi Carroll, livestock stewardship extension associate, South Dakota State University.
“Make sure it gets written down in terms of animal identification, date, product, dosage and withdrawal time. It only takes a minute to transfer information from the label to your notes.”
Carroll says several methods work if you use visible ear tags. “If a calf is treated, notch the tag or add a different-colored tag. This serves as a visual reminder to check treatment records if you decide to sell calves. It also helps with culling decisions regarding health history or some of your management decisions.” You know the animal was treated at some point.
Shannon Williams, a University of Idaho extension educator and BQA coordinator for Idaho, suggests putting the withdrawal date on ear tags with a marking pen. “Then if someone else is working cattle later, there’s no question about which animals were treated and when,” she says.
“Another tactic would be to paint brand the animal on the shoulder with the date. Paint markings stay legible a long time, like we do with cows when preg testing. A visual aid on the animal itself can be helpful when working or sorting cattle."
"You don’t take your kitchen calendar with you to the corral, which makes it a challenge sometimes when making sorting decisions,” says Williams.
A visual clue is important if you have employees with one team doctoring and another team loading and shipping. “If nobody on the shipping crew knows that an animal was treated, this could be a problem,” says Carroll.
“But if there’s a different-colored tag or notched/marked tag, the shipping crew could see it and make sure the animal is past the withdrawal time. This provide a little more accountability.”
In some instances, you are giving something beside an antibiotic and need to check and see if there is a withdrawal time. Choice of antibiotic may also hinge on withdrawal time. You might select one with a short withdrawal when thinking about how soon that animal could be marketed.
For instance, an animal with foot rot, which generally responds rapidly (with good recovery after appropriate treatment), could be marketed sooner after treatment if you choose an antibiotic with a shorter withdrawal period. “There are several options for treating foot rot, so read labels on these products,” says Endecott. “Don’t be locked into a long withdrawal time if there’s a shorter one that will work.”
You may not know whether some products have a withdrawal time unless you check labels. We expect it with antibiotics, but other medications and treatments may or may not have a withdrawal period. All products, such as dewormers or delousers, need to be checked.
Make it a habit
When giving antibiotics to young calves, some producers never think about withdrawal times. “They figure it will be weeks or months before it ends up on someone’s plate, so they don’t worry about withdrawal times,” says Carroll.
“Then they are out of practice on writing down treatments. Forming a habit of record-keeping and keeping track of treatment dates and withdrawal times is part of antibiotic stewardship regarding public perception of human health,” she says.
On occasion, something unusual happens, and you decide to send an animal to market sooner than later. You need to know when that animal was last treated. “You might be sending animals to market and have extra room on the trailer and add other animals.
Or perhaps you make an unplanned marketing decision due to drought or some other situation you hadn’t figured on. Keeping records to verify which animals were treated and when – to know whether they’ve all passed their withdrawal times – is very important,” says Carroll.
Some feedlot computer programs have a chute-side feature built-in. “Once an animal is treated, the individual record is there, and it has an indicator or alert for those withdrawal times,” says Carroll. “As that animal approaches market date, those alerts become more evident, which help remind the operator.
Choosing a product for treatment (within that type of software program) is easier, because that withdrawal information is linked to the product,” she says.
Endecott says there is also some cattle management software that can help you track this in your record-keeping. “Many of those programs are ‘in the cloud’ and you can access them from a cell phone if you can get to the internet,” she says.
“You might be able to set it up with a calendar reminder that would come up on your phone when the withdrawal period is over,” says Endecott.
“Even when things are written down or entered in a computer record-keeping system, we still need reminders, especially during busy times of year when we might not think to look at records.”
There’s a variety of cattle management software and options. “See which ones might work for your own situation regarding record-keeping and if there are some that could tell you when the withdrawal time has expired,” Endecott says.
Williams says many people use cell phones with multiple features, including reminders and alarms. “You could put the withdrawal time into your phone calendar to give a reminder.
Most people have their phones with them. Even if they don’t use the calendar function, there’s a note function. They can pull up the notes and read through the numbers they need to watch for. There may even be an app available for keeping track of these dates,” says Williams.
“On a family farm, with just one person doing all of this, you might think you don’t need to worry about it because you know what you did,” says Carroll. “This is fine; until someone else has to do your chores or make decisions if you are not there.” You need a system that someone else can pick up and make work.
“If we can’t be there for loading, we have to make sure the sale is still made and the correct cattle get loaded, and the buyer is still happy,” says Williams.
On a small operation, you might know everything about the cattle and have it all in your head, but if you are unexpectedly gone, someone else may be making decisions about the cattle.
“Even if you put reminders on your phone, you need two systems. Then if you’re gone, you don’t have all the records with you (on your phone). You need a backup, such as a list you can text, or a calendar in the barn or some other system. You need two sets of records so you don’t leave with your red book in your pocket that lists the cattle, or your phone with all your notes,” she says.
“A simple, easy access for treatment records would be a notebook or calendar that stays chute-side with treatment information in it. You could put it in a small tub or Ziploc sack to stay dry. Usually your loading chute isn’t too far from your working chute, and a person could check treatment records quickly without having to go back to the house for the kitchen calendar.”
PHOTO 1: If a calf is treated for any reason, records should indicate the date, product and withdrawal time. Photo by Heather Smith-Thomas.
PHOTO 2: One visible way to mark a treated animal is by notching the ear tag. Photo by Heidi Carroll.
PHOTO 3: A different-colored ear tag could be utilized to indicate this sick calf was treated. Photo by Heidi Carroll.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Heather Smith Thomas
- Freelance Writer
- Salmon, Idaho
- Email Heather Smith Thomashsmiththomas@centurytel.net