Andy Bishop, who will be a speaker on a panel at the 9th Annual NIAA Antibiotic Symposium, to be held Oct 15–17 in Ames, Iowa, has a lot going on.
He is a Director of Farm Services for AgTech Scientific, he chairs the Kentucky Beef Council Board, which means he is also on the Executive Committee of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. He’s a family man, and he uses Facebook to talk about animal agriculture.
Ask him what he does, and he says simply “I am a cattle producer in the State of Kentucky.”
Bishop runs a cow–calf and seedstock operation, and also has an organic poultry and eggs side of his business which sells to Whole Foods.
The panel he will be speaking on is about Overcoming Communication Challenges. He sees social media as somewhere we can have a dialog with people he might not see on an everyday basis. The theme of this year’s Symposium is Communicating the Science of Responsible Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture.
“I’m not just Friends with other producers, but with consumers, too. There have been times when I’ve had to educate someone on my position, because I get that they are not just pointing fingers about something they think is wrong, but because they don’t understand,” says Bishop.
On the organic poultry side, he says it can be a struggle to comply with the No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) standards. “We’ve had a couple of outbreaks on the poultry side that could have been treated with antibiotics,” he says. “They were catastrophic because we couldn’t use antibiotics. We not only lost money, we lost entire flocks because we couldn’t use antibiotics which would have cured them and kept them alive.”
“It’s a niche market because that’s what people want – No Antibiotics Ever,” he says. “We keep our poultry as happy and healthy as we can, but animals get sick and at the end of the day, it would be nice to have the tools to treat them. We do use a big vaccination program,” he adds.”
In his cattle operation, he does use antibiotics judiciously, and he sees changes since the VFD regulations went into effect.
“We use beef quality assurance standards and work closely with our vet, which helps us to know when an antibiotic is necessary and when maybe it is not needed,” he says.
“People distant from farming are under the idea that we just pump our animals full of antibiotics and hormones to increase production,” he says. “But I want to take care of that animal if it needs it. If it is sick, I want to treat that animal. Just like if one of my kids is sick, I want to get them well.”
“When you have a business, you are not going to spend money that does not bring a return,” he says, referring to the expense of antibiotics if they were used the way people think.
Bishop says he has a vaccination program through his vet for many of the diseases that they face every day. “We start the same program with calves; booster when we need to. It’s much cheaper to prevent than it is to react,” he says. “It’s no different than a flu shot for us, to prevent as much as we can.”
But he has a story to show that it is sometimes not enough. “We had a massive outbreak of pink eye on the cattle side” he tells. “It makes the animal uncomfortable; their eye swells up. In some cases, we can take Chlortetracycline (CTC) and add it to their feed or water, but VFD has made it more difficult to use that product. We have to treat individual animals which means manpower and costs.”
He says he does get frustrated communicating to consumers, because “we want to treat sick animals humanely, and people think antibiotics for animals are a terrible thing and should never be given.”
Communication experts have encouraged farmers and ranchers to use social media to help consumers understand them on a personal basis. “My go–to is Facebook,” says Bishop. “I am on there daily in some capacity, telling my beef story or talking about my chicken house or things that the kids are doing on the farm and why they are doing it.”
Another recommendation is to find ways to share values. “Why is my 7–year old out working?” asks Bishop, reflecting some of the questions he gets. “We are instilling a work ethic. They are learning to how take care of the animals and the lesson of responsibility for what God gave us. We expose them to everything we can, so as young individuals they can have that opportunity.”
“They want to go take care of their animals,” he says. “They go with me at 5:30 a.m. to feed the cattle because they understand that the cattle need their breakfast, too.”
“I don’t post pictures of us treating our animals,” he adds, “because no one likes to see that.”
The 9th Annual NIAA Antibiotic Symposium will be held at Iowa State University in collaboration with the National Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education (NIAMRRE).