Insights Livestock

Farm Babe: Hormones, antibiotics, vaccines, oh my!


People want transparency in the food supply, right?

Well, as a farmer, I’m going to give it to you!

YES, we are those farmers who occasionally use growth hormone implants. On rare occassions we even use antibiotics. YES, we use vaccines! And I’m proud to talk about it and happy to answer questions.

As you can see here in the video, the steer walks into a chute so we can keep him still to administer vaccines, as diseases can be catastrophic and kill cattle! The hormone implants is the first bit you see with the little purple “gun,” where a pellet is slipped under the ear.

You can also tell by the video that with a couple of people to help, this process typically takes about 10 seconds. It also give us as opportunity to individually inspect each steer to see if they’re feeling OK. It can be obvious if one isn’t feeling well, and we may administer medicine. We try to be as preventive as possible with vaccines, so that less medicines are used. Vaccines and certain medications are also approved for use in organic livestock production, and vaccines tend to be a more affordable option than dealing with a devastating illness, which can be very frustrating and time-consuming to treat, in addition to expensive.

Each animal has an ear tag, so we document which number we treated and for what. We then “mark” the steer with that pink “chalk” you see on the forehead so we know we treated that one, in case they accidentally get mixed in with the herd of untreated steers. Record keeping is an important part of animal care for the USDA, and we work closely with our veterinarians for prescriptions and to make sure we are doing everything properly.

These cattle aren’t going to market anytime soon, so there will be plenty of withdrawal time before we sell, which is a requirement by law to ensure there are no antibiotics present in the meat at the time of sale.

Why use hormones? Simply put, many farms find ROI and farming is still a business. We are paid per pound, and growth hormones safely allow the animals to convert feed more efficiently and gain weight better, which means producing more beef with fewer environmental resources.

There is no nutritional difference between a steer that’s had a hormone and one that has not because the actual scientific difference is a fraction of a billionth of a gram. All of our food naturally contains hormones, and there are actually more hormones in most vegetables than there is in beef!

We are so fortunate to have a plethora of options with what sort of beef we buy, and it is all safe, healthy, and nutritious regardless of label. But as a science-minded consumer, I am very proud of what we do and eat our own beef almost every day. For more info, just ask! And check out this link from the Iowa Beef center, which explains further.

Thanks a lot for tuning in and meeting your meat! I know the video isn’t fancy, but I did that on purpose so you could have a better understanding of what a real commercial beef pen looks like, without “dressing it up” too much or putting a pretty spin on it. I like to keep it real and hope this helps to demystify and make you feel more comfortable with the process. Personally, I love learning more about the science behind our food and hope you enjoyed these little tidbits of info.


Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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