Barn Chatter

The What, Why, and Who of the Indiana State Fair and Indiana 4-H Livestock Drug T​esting Program

Authors: Dr. Jim Weisman & Aaron Fisher | Editor: Arin Weidner​
Published: July 7, 2017

Drug testing programs can sometimes feel overwhelming for Indiana 4-H livestock parents. There are a number of considerations, practices, and regulations youth must follow when they raise an animal for show or market. This article aims to answer some commonly asked questions and highlight best practices that both youth and parents should follow to ensure their child’s animal is well cared for. It is important for all exhibitors and producers to remember the enormous responsibility they have to appropriately treat and care for their animals.

Why are we required to drug test livestock at the Indiana State Fair 4-H livestock shows?​

4-H students show sheep

​There are two primary goals for most animal drug testing programs at livestock shows:

  1. To educate Indiana youth
    Youth who exhibit livestock learn about the importance of proper animal husbandry and wellness care of their animals. In particular, youth learn how this relates to appropriate use of medications and substances that can ultimately enter the food chain.
  2. To provide equal opportunity in competition
    Drug tests ensure that all exhibitors have an equal opportunity in competition. No animals can receive medications or substances that alter the level playing field.

What is a withdrawal time and how does this affect whether a drug test might come back with a positive or negative result?

A withdrawal time is the period (usually recorded in days) a particular substance needs to leave the animal’s body by natural means.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes withdrawal times after significant research and clinical trials. Although we have the FDA’s average withdrawal times, your animal’s metabolism may not clear the substance as quickly as the average. This could result in a positive drug test for that substance. The Indiana State Fair Animal Drug Testing program has a zero tolerance rule. It is important to recognize that even though your animal may be past the published withdrawal time, it is still possible for a substance to be detectable. Work with your veterinarians. They will recommend the most appropriate treatments or therapies.

The animal’s health and welfare are the first and most important factors to consider when using medications or substances in your livestock.​

What is an illegal drug and how is it decided if a drug is considered 'illegal or not'?

The FDA has very specific rules and regulations about which drugs may be used in animals. All of these regulations are established to protect the animal by ensuring that the medication or substance will help the animal and not harm it. These regulations also ensure that animal products that enter the human food chain will not be contain any medication or substance that may harm to a person.

Any drug that is not specifically listed (or labeled) for a given species is considered illegal to use. It is important to remember that just because a drug is approved in one species does not mean it is approved in another. In some cases it may vary within species. For this reason, the only use medications and substances under your veterinarian’s advice. Your veterinarian is keenly aware and knowledgeable of which drugs are approved and how they must be administered in order to meet these guidelines.

Some shows have something that people refer to as a 'gait rule'. What does that mean? What kinds of substances does this apply to?

At the Indiana State Fair we have “the gait rule,” which was established to ensure that medications or substances should not be used to alter the movement (gait) of an animal. For example, an animal might become lame and not be able to walk appropriately in the show ring. This lameness may be the result of a musculoskeletal abnormality that developed recently or over time.

An exhibitor might consider using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce the animal’s discomfort. But by doing so, the exhibitor alters the animal’s “natural state,” which changes the animal’s show appearance and gait. This alteration provides an uneven playing field in the sense of competition, so the gait rule ensures all animals are presented in their natural state.

Are there any implications to giving human foods and medicines to animals?

There are implications to giving human foods and medications to animals. Many of these implications negatively influence the wellness of the animal.  

  • ​Human food to animals
    • When human food is uncooked (raw) there is the great potential for food poisoning to the animal.
    • Human food is not within an animal’s normal diet. Depending of the food type, it may be hard for the animal to digest and cause various forms of GI illness.
  • ​​Human medications to animals
    • ​​There are legal issues as most human medications are not “labeled” or approved for use in animals.
    • Medication was tested on a limited basis to ensure that it is effective and safe for use with humans.
    • The medication’s potential harm to the animal’s body is unknown.
    • Human medications introduced into the food chain can harm people who eat that animal product.​​

​​Let's say my child​ has been raising a beef heifer and I notice that it is not walking very well. Should I give my animal some medicine to help it walk?

a black cow stands in a pen

These situations will arise and medication(s) may need to be administered. Whether the decision is influenced by the ability to exhibit this animal or head to market, decisions must be made in the best interest of the animal. 

Your veterinarian play a key role in this decision process. As an Indiana 4-H youth livestock exhibitor, this is a great learning opportunity. In a production operation many factors affect the daily decisions about how to treat the animals’ health. If the decision ultimately makes the animal ineligible for exhibition (i.e., withdrawal time, gait rule, etc.), then this is part of working with livestock. Youth learn that as a living animal, things can happen that will impact the health of the animal. Sometimes, things can happen that are outside of the owner’s control. When these situations arise, sometimes the right choice is one that prevents the animal from being exhibited, but allows the animal to be cared for appropriately.

An analogy to the use of medications in an animal is similar to that of a star athlete participating in a competition. Consider an athlete who twists his or her ankle on the morning of a competition and decides to take a NSAID. The NSAID would help the athlete recover more quickly, but the athlete is also deciding not participate to compete if the rules state that NSAIDs are not allowed at the time of the race. The NSAID masks the discomfort and for most athletes, they would still not perform at the level they could have.  As this relates to livestock exhibition, it is best to treat the animal, but realize that this may make the animal ineligible for exhibition.

This is a tough decision, but it is the right decision for the benefit of the animal.

Who needs to make sure that their animals meet federal food and safety guidelines, as well as the policies of individual livestock shows?

A big part of exhibiting in Indiana 4-H (whether it be with livestock projects or poster-based projects) is the member’s responsibility for his or her actions and the project he or she enters. The published rules and regulations are set in order to provide guidance for all exhibitors while ensuring that everyone is evaluated fairly. The same applies for the proper care of animals in relation to FDA guidelines. These guidelines are set to ensure the safety of the greater population. Ultimately, the livestock owner is responsible for following these regulations.

Making sound breeding decisions and working hard with livestock on a daily basis prepare youth for the show ring and sets the stage for their animals to be champions. But Indiana 4-H livestock projects are more than just competitions. Livestock projects help Indiana 4-H members build character and teaching them valuable lessons. These things will take participants far not only in a potential animal agricultural careers, but in any career they wish to pursue. Indiana 4-H families should use this time of learning to promote what animal agriculture does for our society.

The proper care and treatment of one animal at a time lays the foundation for the trust people have in animal agriculture that ultimately makes everyone a champion.

Dr. Weisman is the director of student services and clinical associate professor at Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves as Director of the Indiana State Fair and was a 10 Indiana 4-H member.  

Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension​. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.​​​

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.​

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