The Myth of Antibiotics and Hormones in Dairy

Michigan dairy farmers want your kids to stay just as healthy as their cows, which is why they keep your milk free of antibiotics and added hormones.

From reminding them to wear a helmet while riding their bikes to inspecting the labels on everything they eat, you do all you can to ensure your kids are healthy. For Jill Brester, DVM, a dairy farm veterinarian and mother of two, worrying about the health of her children and the health of dairy cows go hand in hand.

Brester, who grew up on a small dairy farm in Nebraska, has always been passionate about agriculture. “As a young woman, I wanted to work with these amazing animals I grew to love and respect. When the word ‘veterinarian’ came to mind, I always envisioned dairy cows.” Because of her exposure to the dairy industry from a young age, Brester has seen firsthand how much it has evolved over the years.

“The reality of my job as a dairy veterinarian is much different than what I envisioned,” says Brester, who imagined herself going from farm to farm treating individual cows for illness. “Caring for cows is still the top priority of dairy farm families, but we also work together to incorporate preventative medicine practices to prevent illness from happening in the first place. This is a great advancement in our industry and the profession.” If a cow gets sick, Brester views this as a failure of preventative medicine protocols.

Of course, cows do get sick from time to time, and with sickness comes treatment. “As a mom, I know that if my kids are sick, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. As a veterinarian who cares for dairy cows, it would be inhumane to not treat them with the appropriate medicine if they are ill.” Antibiotics are not given to every sick cow, though. “I practice evidence-based medicine to determine the cause of the disease and then devise a plan. Antibiotics are given when necessary, and never as a means to prevent illness.”

If a dairy cow must be treated with antibiotics, her milk is discarded, it doesn’t leave the farm and will not be sold in stores until she is healthy and her milk has tested negative for antibiotics. “The milk we buy in the grocery store is one of the most regulated and tested foods.” Farmers keep records to help ensure the responsible use of antibiotics and, after the milk leaves the farm, it is tested at the plant for antibiotics. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public. “Whether your milk has a label that says it is antibiotic free or not, it’s antibiotic free. No matter the price or what the label says, it’s all antibiotic-free and it’s all safe,” Brester says.

But what about added hormones? You don’t have to worry, because hormones have never been added to milk. Foods that come from a living thing, whether plant or animal, contain naturally occurring hormones. These hormones are not a health concern. “It used to be common to supplement dairy cows with hormones to increase milk production, but the nutritional quality of the milk never changed,” Brester explains. “Although the supplemental hormone is FDA-approved, in 2008, Michigan’s dairy community made the decision to no longer use these hormones in response to consumer demand.”

Instead, Michigan dairy farmers have opted for more natural ways to increase milk production by simply taking optimal care of their cows. “Cows eat a well-
formulated ration and live in a low-stress environment. We strive to keep them healthy and happy, because happy and healthy cows produce the milk we can all enjoy.”

Brester recognizes and enjoys the importance of her role in keeping dairy safe. “Every day as a mother, I play a large role in the nutrition of my children. For my boys, milk provides them with important nutrients for growth and development. I work to ensure their food is safe and nutritious, and I work even harder to ensure that the foods we in the dairy industry produce is safe for your families, as well.

“As a mom and a dairy cow veterinarian, I feel confident that the milk my children drink is not only safe and nutritious but also comes from local, well cared for cows.”

Brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan. Learn more at


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