The responsible use of antibiotics is critical to maintaining herd health. Yet, the South-African cattle production industry is battling the prophylactic use of antibiotics in the treatment of diseases in cattle. This leads to misuse of antibiotics, which in turn causes antibiotic resistance.

This is the view of Thapelo Kgosi Ramokala, Animal Health Specialist at Beefmaster Group, who says more needs to be done to demystify the dangers around irresponsible antibiotics use, and emphasises the importance of informed decision-making in antibiotic use.

“There are several self-limiting conditions in livestock that do not require antibiotics for treatment, but still need to be treated seriously,” Mr Ramokala asserts. “Antibiotics should be reserved for cases where there is a secondary bacterial infection.”

Thapelo further elaborates that misusing antibiotics not only fails to treat the underlying problem but also contributes to antibiotic resistance.

“A targeted approach is crucial. If an animal falls ill, it is recommended to administer an antibiotic for a specific condition, and if there is no improvement, reassess the treatment plan. Using broad-spectrum antibiotics without a clear diagnosis can inadvertently harm the herd and promote antibiotic resistance.”

So why do primary producers often resort to unnecessary antibiotic use?

“Panic is a significant factor,” Thapelo explains. “When an animal shows signs of illness, producers fear losses and may rush to administer antibiotics. However, this approach can exacerbate the issue. Education is the key to overcoming this challenge.”

Thapelo underscores the importance of education and collaboration within the industry. “Primary producers need access to accurate information. State veterinarians, magazines, seminars, and communal farmer networks can play a pivotal role in disseminating knowledge about various diseases and proper antibiotic use,” he suggests.

He also advocates for enhanced engagement between pharmaceutical companies and farmers. “Before selling antibiotics, pharmaceutical companies should engage in dialogue with farmers, understanding the symptoms and farm conditions to recommend the appropriate medication.”

Beefmaster Group, known for its commitment to responsible livestock management, is at the forefront of championing antibiotic stewardship. The company has a stringent policy against accepting cattle from farmers who have prophylactically administered antibiotics to calves and weaners. Moreover, the company’s feedlot in Christiana adheres to a responsible antibiotic use policy and collaborates closely with animal health experts to ensure optimal medication practices.

“If the bacterial populations in our cattle develop resistance due to the overuse of antibiotics, we shall not be able to treat diseases effectively because it takes many years to develop a safe and effective antibiotic, and there are no new antibiotic developments even in the research phase for use in production animal medicine,” says Mr Ramokala.

“We need a more holistic approach to the issue of antibiotic use in animals so that it helps to build herd health, not destroy it.”

Thapelo lists his top five tips to primary beef producers on demystifying the issue of antibiotic use in livestock production:

Accurate diagnosis:

Before administering antibiotics, ensure a proper diagnosis. Consult with a veterinarian to accurately identify the underlying cause of illness. Remember that antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, not viral ones.

Symptom monitoring:

Instead of rushing to administer antibiotics at the first sign of illness, monitor the symptoms closely. Isolate sick animals to prevent the spread of infections, and maintain proper hygiene practices on the farm. This can reduce the need for antibiotics and limit the risk of disease transmission. If the animal’s condition worsens or does not improve within a reasonable time, seek professional advice.

Targeted treatment:

Administer antibiotics targeted to the specific bacteria causing the infection. Using broad-spectrum antibiotics should be a last resort, only when the specific pathogen is unidentified or there is a strong clinical reason. Avoid using the same antibiotic repeatedly for different cases. Over time, bacteria can develop resistance. Consult with a veterinarian to create a rotation plan for different antibiotics or explore non-antibiotic alternatives where applicable.

Record keeping:

Maintain comprehensive records of all antibiotic usage, including the type, dosage, duration, and reason for use. This helps track effectiveness and aids in making informed decisions in the future.

Regular training:

Continuously educate yourself and your staff about livestock health, disease prevention, and responsible antibiotic use. Stay updated on the latest industry practices and guidelines.

For more information, read more on the website for the Zimbabwe Veterinary Services at