Improved husbandry can help cut antibiotic use

Good husbandry, health planning and prompt diagnosis and treatment of disease will underpin calls to improve responsible use of antibiotics.

Speaking in light of recent calls by the EU Commission to tackle antibiotic resistance, along with animal welfare campaigners pushing for a 50% reduction in antibiotic use, Carl Padgett, chairman of the BVA, said the emphasis should be on encouraging responsible use of antimicrobials.

“This is something all sectors, and all enterprises need to address – not just large scale or intensive systems,” he said.

Vet Maarten Boers from the Livestock Partnership said targeted and hygienic use of antibiotics at drying off was one area where significant improvements could be made.

“At the moment we are seeing overuse of antibiotics as a ‘prop’ for poor infusion technique,” he said.

Antibiotic tubes should be targeted towards cows with somatic cell counts (SCC) of more than 200,000 cells/ml. A teat sealant in isolation could then be used on cows with lower SCC – as long as best practice infusion technique was carried out.

Mr Boers recommended the following steps at drying off:

• Don’t administer dry cow therapy during milking
• Wash down parlour after milking and bring cows in for drying off
• Wear a clean pair of gloves
• Take time to infuse teats
• Clean teats with cotton wool and surgical spirit, starting with the teats furthest away from you and working forward
• Infuse teats starting with the teats closest to you and working away
• Apply teat dip

Vet Andrew Bradley, QMMS said although there was little direct risk of resistance through the use of intramammaries, the problem came when feeding waste milk to calves. And as such, this was an area likely to come under scrutiny.

He also explained that the use of injectable antibiotics for mastitis treatment was one area that bought greater risk of resistance, and as such targeted use was crucial. “Injectables must be used on a farm specific, case by case basis. Farmers need to ensure they use the appropriate antibiotic, via the appropriate route.”

Vet John MacFarlane of Alnorthumbria Vets said a reduction in antibiotic use was only achievable with major advances in on-farm knowledge of pathogens present.

“This would enable the identification of individual bugs, which would then decide whether management changes could reduce pressure. Knowing what bugs were present would also allow more accurate use of vaccines.”

Mr Padgett agreed: “Early testing to establish the cause of problem, along with prompt turn around of results will enable responsible use.” As such farmers should look at sourcing diagnostic facilities that would offer such a turn around, as well as having active discussions with their vet.

According to Mr MacFarlane, preventing unnecessary use all came back to addressing the fundamentals of living – get the basics right and health would be markedly improved.

“Often you can look at the ration and see areas where changes could tip the balance in favour of the animal. When there is environmental or nutritional stress on the animal, bacteria stress is more likely to happen.”

Mr Padgett stressed that prophylactic use of antibiotics as a means of propping up poor husbandry was an area of use that would receive the most attention and consequently would need addressing.

For example, on an over-stocked pig fattening unit where weaners were entering the system, but there was not the husbandry in place to ensure a clean environment. Because scour was inevitable, antibiotics would automatically be used as a preventative step – this would have to change.