Beef and sheep farms cutting drugs amid data challenge

Sheep and beef farmers should collaborate with vets in the advent of ground-breaking industry tools to measure drugs use and benchmark progress in antibiotics reduction.

This is what vets and farmers were told at the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture alliance (Ruma) 2019 conference in London last week (29 October) where experts reassured the audience that both sectors were making progress in antibiotics stewardship.

See also: How a farmer cut antibiotics and the cost of sheep abortion

The news is very positive for two industries that have struggled to set a standard measure and methodology for drugs recording and have been highlighted as being fundamentally different compared to the pig, poultry and dairy sectors.

Beef antibiotics progress

• Calves vaccinated against pneumonia increased 5% in 2018
• Calves vaccinated against infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) lifted 4% in 2018
• Injectable HP-CIA use fell 46% comparing 2018 to 2016
• Between 2011 and 2017, calf vaccination lifted 43% for IBR and 30% for calf pneumonia

Farm targets
• Monitor antibiotics usage in beef cattle annually
• Halve HP CIA use in herds
• Continue monitoring vaccine use
• Start benchmarking farms on antibiotic use

A range of factors have made data recording a challenge, including the stratified nature of breeder, store and finisher farms; the varying ages and sizes of stock; and the long finishing times of beef animals.

However, vaccination sales figures, individual case studies and animal health campaigns like #colostrumisgold have been used as a proxy measure of progress in the absence of national data sets.

Sheep antibiotics progress

• 13% of breeding ewes were vaccinated against foot-rot in 2018 versus 10% in 2013
• Neonatal lamb antibiotic use fell 21.5% drop between spring 2018 and spring 2019

Farm targets
• Cut overall drug use 10% and cut highest priority critically important antibiotic (HP-CIAs) use by 50%
• Co-ordinate collation of antibiotics usage data
• Increase sale of foot-rot vaccines 5% annually to reduce lameness
• Increase abortion vaccine sales 5% each year to help reduce abortion
• Cut sales of antibiotics for neonatal lambs 10% each year

New tools

Calculating and collecting antibiotics usage data on beef and sheep farms should be easier in 2020 and beyond.

• The Sheep Health and Welfare Group (Shawg) method for calculating antibiotics comprises a calculation for flock use and a second method for antibiotics used in lambs under a week old.
Farmers Weekly understands a beef method will be formally agreed by Christmas.
• An e-medicine hub for sheep and cattle farms – similar to the e-medicine book for pig farmers – is  in the second phase of a pilot project. A launch date is not known at present.
• Farm Medicine Tracker: A commercial app to log prescription data, dose rate, withdrawal periods, animal identification and weight is in development.

What can beef farmers do now?

Veterinary surgeon Elizabeth Berry of the Ruma Targets Task Force outlines seven key areas farms can address

1. Herd health history

  • Discuss herd health plans with your vet and know your herd status for bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Johne’s.
  • Ask about disease status before buying breeding stock and calves from other holdings.

2. Natural calving

  • Getting bull selection, cow nutrition and body condition and mineral status right can help minimise calving problems.
  • Aim for calves with vigour that get up and take a full feed of colostrum early, providing them with the antibodies they need.

3. Colostrum

  • A calf that has calved naturally should be able to access the teat, suckle and feed on colostrum.
  • A calf’s ability to absorb immunoglobulins reduces after six hours and has gone completely by 24 hours.
  • Calf rearers should feed high-quality (>50 mg/ml of antibody) colostrum at 10% of body weight ideally within two hours of birth, but definitely within four hours.

4. Vaccinations

  • Preparing the immune system of youngstock can reduce cases of pneumonia.
  • Vaccinations for coronavirus, rotavirus and E coli in pregnant cows mean immunity is passed in the milk, reducing diarrhoea in newborn calves.

5. Stocking rates

  • Occasionally a late spring or a TB shutdown can lead to high stocking rates and pathogens building up and stocking rates becoming high as calves continue growing.
  • Ensure stock have adequate ventilation and space and avoid drafts on young calves.
  • Calves under 50kg need at least 1.5 sq m (2-4m sq m is optimum) and calves 150-200kg require 2 sq m (5 sq m is optimum).

6. Weight for age

  • Calf rearers should source calves from farms with known health status and protocols for colostrum, BVD.
  • Minimum weight gains and weight for age targets such as weaned calves should be 85-90kg at eight weeks old depending on breed.

7. Stress points

  • Block calving: Ensuring good management when managing stock at busy times of year.
  • Castration, disbudding, handling, weaning.

What can sheep farmers do now?

Like beef farmers, sheep farmers are relatively low users of antibiotics, but there are three vital health areas to monitor, said National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker.

1. Lameness
Vaccinate for foot-rot and follow all parts of the five-point lameness plan

  • The five-point lameness plan
  • Vaccinate sheep for foot-rot
  • Quarantine incoming stock for 28 days
  • Treat lamb scald with foot-bathing and mark all lame sheep
  • Cull repeat offenders

Avoid infection spreading by cleaning sheds, handling systems and using hydrated lime, gravel and woodchip to reduce infection and moving troughs and buckets regularly.

2. Abortion

  • Vaccinate for toxoplasma and enzootic abortion upon veterinary consultation

3. Neonatal lambs

  • Work with your vet to address the two main reasons for antibiotics use in lambs – watery mouth and joint ill
  • Provide ample fresh bedding and quality colostrum to reduce the need for routine oral dosing
  • Target oral dosing to small triplets or small lambs or look at just using it later in the lambing period.