There is a lot of well-placed concern about the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in agriculture. Our culture's excessive dependence on these drugs is likely to bite us in the butt in the near future. We--that is, anybody who eats a burger at Mickey D's or buys meat at the grocery, or is not particularly fastidious about antibiotic free meat and eggs--all are participants in a system that uses tons of antibiotics every year. These drugs are used as an entirely routine part of the diet of almost all livestock and poultry, partly prophylactically to prevent the spread of disease in crowded settings, and partly because, for reasons not well understood, they promote rapid weight gain. Recently, the FDA came out with a set of (easily ignored) guidelines to get the food industry to reduce its dependence on antibiotics. I don't think much will happen to change the status quo. In our society, the contest between short term profit and long-term public health goods is not a fair fight.
That said, on our farm, we use antibiotics. Our medicine cart and freezer contains a variety of antibiotics, injectable, oral, and topical, and all are hardly ever used. They only come out when there is some specific, treatable disorder.
(Squeam alert--if you're turned off by graphic descriptions of eyes, injuries, or the opening of Un Chien Andalou, probably time to close the page)
Bucks are good at cleaning up blackberry brambles. They are, however, not especially bright, or sensitive to pain (as befits an animal whose primary means of delivering a message is to whack his head as hard as possible against the message's recipient). I have seen a buck, quite contented and happy, with a thorny blackberry stem jammed an inch up his nostril.
Cherubino is one of our many bucks, and one of the dumber ones. Over a month ago, while enthusiastically eating brambles, he jammed a thorn in his right eye, smack in the pupil. The result was a wound which, when I saw him at the end of the day, had punctured the cornea, damaged the iris, and caused massive vascularization of the eye. There looked to be a hole or pit in the surface of his eye, about a millimeter across. It looked like hell, all red and inflamed and swollen.
The Real Doctor, with her expertise in this field (at least with human eyes), prescribed antibiotics right away, and her prognosis was grim: messing with the iris was, for her, the first step to a dead eye. However, as our vet told us, goat eyes are a bit tougher. He agreed with the use of antibiotics, and suggested that the eye would look worse for a couple of weeks, but heal to have a lump of white scar tissue in the pupil, and a deformed but functional iris.
Our vet's prediction is bearing out. The wound initially got black and mounded up, with inflammation and scar tissue creating a bump over a millimeter high, focused on a crater a millimeter across. This blackened ocular landscape was surrounded by intense red vascularization and inflammation of the iris and sclera, so the whole eye looked like an angry volcano that had just erupted. It was the nastiest looking thing on the farm (and there are some nasty things on a farm), and made our eight-year-old niece, who normally has an unconditional and all-encompassing love of goats, scream and run away. Cherubino looked like the hell-goat, at least from the right; from the left, he was totally unconcerned and hungry for more brambles.
Most of Cherubino's eye looks OK now, except for a lump of white scar tissue right in the center. A lot of this healing has been helped by twice-daily applications of Oxypol. Of course, Cherubino does not agree with this regime, and vigorously contests with my applications of the drug. So, twice a day, I have to catch him, lift his forelegs off the ground and tightly grip his neck with my thighs, wrap my left arm all the way around his head and force his right eye open, and oh-so-carefully squeeze a 1-cm-long ribbon of goo into his eye.
I should mention that it is the rut--so Cherubino, like all our bucks, is extra stinky. Like, paralyzingly stinky, a stinky that makes the air gelatinous, a stinky so thick that it is almost audible, a stinky like a lump of Bulgarian feta that has been sent by ship to Borneo and back, a stinky that is repulsive from a hundred feet away. His glands are going full blast, and like all our bucks, he spends a lot of time peeing on his head and beard. So, this is what I have to squeeze between my thighs and wrap my arm around--and about half the time, I notice that he's wet, and it hasn't been raining. So, I have a special pair of "buck pants" and a "buck jacket" that I wear, twice a day, to deal with this. I have about two more weeks left of this treatment.
If I were smarter, there might be a different tool of the week; I have a friend who has a tyvek bunny-suit, just for dealing with bucks.