Producers should use the withdrawal of calf milk replacers medicated with chlortetracycline as a wake-up call for addressing calf management.

The antibiotic was banned from inclusion in ready mixed milk powders in December after the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) voiced concerns over the medication being used for routine treatment.

Vet Matt Colston of Frame Swift and Partners believes in some cases farmers were using these medicated milk replacers as “a crutch” for poor management.

“If you’re relying on antibiotic in milk in the first six weeks of life, you need to do something to address management now. The removal of chlortetracycline in replacers is the push a lot of people needed,” he says.

Producers should ask how they can spread calves out and take note of hygiene in accommodation.

“High stocking rates are the pinch points on most farms, with a lot of calf pens over-full a lot of the time.

“Many producers will have a constant flow of calves, but they need to look at whether they can batch them up and have an all in, all out policy,” he adds.”

Chlortetracycline is still available, but will have to be prescribed in small packets for treatment of individual calves or small groups, rather than for all calves. It is likely to be more expensive than it was when it was pre-mixed in replacers.

Vet John Macfarlane of Alnorthumbria Vets explains how many farmers buying in calves traditionally used chlortetracycline milk replacers to prevent pneumonia upon arrival. “I would encourage those producers to communicate with sellers to get some kind of vaccination policy in place instead,” he says.

Some companies are marketing “natural antimicrobials” as an alternative to medicated milk powder. However, although they may help, Mr Colston says addressing management should be a priority.

“Look critically at the supporting information on these feed supplements to see whether they will actually bring any benefits.”

He advises producers to look at space, ventilation and floor sloping and rotate and disinfect pens.

“Calf diseases are an optional extra in the pre-weaning period. If housing and management are correct, you won’t have any problems.”

Mr Macfarlane, believes the end to ready mixed CMR with chlortetracycline is not a great loss. “Milk is an unreliable delivery method for medicine anyway,” he says.

“When a calf is ill, intakes will be reduced, so they won’t drink. This could potentially lead to under-dosing and increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance.”

He explains that there is also some evidence of reduced efficacy of chlortetracycline when combined with milk replacers, which is due to negative interaction between components.

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