Background: Antibiotics are increasingly used throughout the world in food animal production for controlling and preventing disease and for promoting growth. But this trend also has the potential for promoting antibiotic resistance, which represents a threat to human, animal, and environmental health. The use of antibiotics and the potential effects of antibiotic dependence has often been associated with large-scale food animal production. But rural households also engage in small-scale production, often operating literally in backyards. While some small-scale producers use veterinary antibiotics, many do not. This paper examines knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and agricultural practices (KAP) that represent an alternative to dependence on antibiotics. Methods: Qualitative field research was based on four focus group discussions (FGDs) with non-indigenous backyard food animal producers in four communities near Quito, Ecuador and two FGDs with veterinarians. FGDs were supplemented by structured observations and key informant interviews. They were recorded with digital audio devices and transcriptions were analyzed independently by two researchers using a three-stage coding procedure. Open coding identifies underlying concepts, while axial coding develops categories and properties, and selective coding integrates the information in order to identify the key dimensions of the collective qualitative data. Results: Backyard food animal producers in the Ecuadorian highlands generally do not use antibiotics while rearing small batches of animals and poultry for predominantly non-commercial household consumption. Instead, they rely on low cost traditional veterinary remedies. These practices are informed by their Andean history of agriculture and a belief system whereby physical activity is a holistic lifestyle through which people maintain their health by participating in the physical and spiritual environment. Conclusions: Backyard food animal producers in the Ecuadorian highlands implement complex strategies based on both economic calculations and sociocultural underpinnings that shape perceptions, attitudes, and practices. They use traditional veterinary remedies in lieu of antibiotics in most cases because limited production of food animals in small spaces contributes to a predictable household food supply, while at the same time conforming to traditional concepts of human and environmental health.