Evolving Farm Practices: A Shift to Antibiotic-Free Livestock

Headshot of Trent Klarenbach, founder of Klarenbach Research
Trent Klarenbach
May 2, 2024
A farmer in an open field at sunset, surrounded by his herd of content pigs, illustrating a serene and natural farming environment.
May 2, 2024
In an age where sustainability and health consciousness are at the forefront of consumer minds, the push towards antibiotic-free livestock farming is gaining momentum. This article takes you to the heart of this movement, introducing you to dedicated farmers like Ron Mardesen of A-Frame Acres and Lynn Utesch of Wisconsin, who have revolutionized their practices to ensure healthier livestock and ultimately, healthier human consumption. Through their stories, we explore the broader industry's antibiotic trends, consumer preferences, and the complex labeling system that often leaves shoppers puzzled.

A Paradigm Shift at A-Frame Acres

Nearly four decades ago, Ron Mardesen took a bold step away from conventional livestock farming by ceasing the use of routine antibiotics at his hog farm, A-Frame Acres, in Elliot, Iowa. This decision marked the beginning of a more humane approach to animal husbandry. Prioritizing clean feed, fresh air, comfortable bedding, and ample space, Mardesen witnessed remarkable improvements in the health and well-being of his pigs. This success led him to partner with Niman Ranch, a network known for its strict no-antibiotics policy, in 2002.

Mardesen's approach highlights a significant shift from traditional practices where the primary focus has been on maximizing output through the extensive use of antibiotics. His experience underscores a key industry challenge—the overuse of antibiotics, which has been linked to increased antibiotic resistance in both animals and humans[1].

Key Benefits Noted:

  • Enhanced animal health
  • Elimination of routine antibiotics
  • Partnership with Niman Ranch
A rural hog farm in Iowa, showing pigs in a spacious, clean pen with natural lighting and straw bedding, surrounded by greenery and rustic barns.

The Widespread Impact of Antibiotic Use in Livestock

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming has been a contentious issue, with recent data from the US Food and Drug Administration showing a 4% increase in antibiotic sales for meat production from 2021 to 2022. Despite a temporary decline following regulatory changes in 2016, antibiotic sales have consistently risen, with a notable 12% increase from 2017 to 2022. This trend reflects ongoing reliance on antibiotics despite known health risks, highlighting the need for continued reform in farming practices[2].

FDA Findings:

  • 4% increase in antibiotic sales from 2021 to 2022
  • Major usage in pigs and cattle sectors

Lynn Utesch's Grass-fed Alternative

In contrast, Lynn Utesch, a cattle farmer in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, has demonstrated that it is possible to raise healthy livestock without antibiotics. By implementing rotational grazing and ensuring his cattle consume a natural diet, Utesch has successfully managed his livestock without the need for medical interventions. His methods not only promote animal health but also contribute to the sustainability of his farming operations[3].

Utesch's Philosophy:

  • Strong advocacy for natural diet and open space
  • No antibiotics for cattle, not even for treatment

Consumer Preferences and the Labeling Dilemma

Consumer demand for antibiotic-free meat is strong, with a 2021 poll indicating that two-thirds of Americans consider "antibiotic-free" labels important when purchasing meat. However, the labeling system remains complex and often misleading, with terms like "no antibiotics routinely used" and "antibiotics may be used" causing confusion among shoppers. This ambiguity points to a broader issue of transparency in food labeling, which is crucial for informed consumer choices[4].

Consumer Trends:

  • A strong preference for antibiotic-free labels
  • Ongoing confusion about labeling specifics
A farmer analyzing meat product labels in a grocery store aisle, showing concern as he reads various labels like 'antibiotic-free' and 'grass-fed'.


The journey towards antibiotic-free farming is fundamentally about changing how we think about food production. It involves a shift from seeing animals as mere commodities to treating them as part of a sustainable agricultural system. For consumers, understanding these practices is key to making choices that align with personal and environmental health goals. As more farmers adopt humane and sustainable practices, it becomes increasingly important for regulations to support these changes, ensuring that the future of farming is healthy for both animals and humans.

A group of diverse consumers engaged in a lively discussion with a farmer at a farm market, surrounded by fresh produce and focusing on sustainable farming.


  1. Modern Farmer. "On the Ground with the Farmers Producing Antibiotic-Free Meat." Modern Farmer, Accessed April 24, 2024.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Antibiotic Sales for Meat Production." FDA Reports, 2022.
  3. Interview with Lynn Utesch, April 2024.
  4. National Poll on Consumer Preferences for Meat Products, 2021.