Use of antimicrobials in animals poses a potential risk for public health as it contributes to the selection and spread of antimicrobial resistance. Although knowledge of the negative consequences of extensive antimicrobial use in humans and animals accumulated over the decades, total therapeutic antimicrobial use in farm animals in the Netherlands doubled between 1990 and 2007. A series of facts and events formed a window of opportunity to reduce antimicrobial use in farm animals. The recent discovery of significant reservoirs of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and extended spectrum beta-lactamase-producing bacteria (ESBL) in farm animals, with potential public health implications, combined with an increasing lack of confidence of the public in intensive livestock industries, and discrepancy between the very low antimicrobial use in humans and high use in animals, resulted in intensive collaboration between the government, veterinary professional organizations and important stakeholders within the livestock sector. A combination of compulsory and voluntary actions with clear reduction goals resulted in a 56% reduction in antimicrobial use in farm animals in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2012 and aims at accomplishing a 70% reduction target in 2015. This article describes and analyses the processes and actions behind this transition from an abundant antimicrobial use in farm animals towards a more prudent application of antimicrobials in farm animals in the Netherlands.