Antimicrobial agents, especially antibacterial agents, are used throughout the world, across a diverse array of extensive and intensive livestock production systems, to protect the health and welfare of livestock and to improve their performance. While some agents that are used in livestock belong to classes that have no counterpart in human medicine, this is not the case for the most widely used agents: the tetracyclines, penicillins, macrolides and sulphonamides. Many bacterial diseases of livestock cause devastating losses of animal life and productivity. As a result, their keepers can lose their livelihoods and see a dramatic reduction in income, so there is often a great sense of urgency to treat affected animals early. However, there are a large number of bacterial pathogens that cause disease and it is frequently difficult to reach a conclusive diagnosis prior to instituting treatment. There are many ways in which existing uses of antimicrobial agents can be improved, amongst the most important are increased utilisation of veterinary professional services, the introduction of enhanced infection control measures, improved point-of-care diagnostic tests, and the application of physiologically based population pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic modelling.