How a farmer tackled watery mouth without antibiotics

Shropshire sheep and beef farmer James Evans was concerned about the effect the routine use of antibiotics, used to tackle disease at lambing, was having on the health of his lambs.

“The antibiotics we were using weren’t just killing the bad bacteria in the lamb’s gut, but the good bacteria, too,” says Mr Evans, who runs a flock of 800 Lleyns at Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire.

He feared this approach might one day cease to be effective. “As far as I’m aware we don’t have a resistance issue, but science dictates the more we use antibiotics, the more likely that could happen in the future,” he says.

See also: How a sheep farmer has increased output by £10 a ewe

Mr Evans researched alternatives and opted for Panatec, a non-antibiotic supplement that comes in tablet form and is based on technology that harnesses the reaction of enzymes and antioxidants. 

When he started using it and how it is administered

He first gave it to lambs two years ago. His single- and triplet-bearing ewes lamb are kept inside from 1 April and the tablet is given to these lambs immediately after birth as it is very rare to have any problems outdoors.

“Once a lamb is penned up we pop the tablet into its mouth; it is easy for them to swallow,” says Mr Evans, who sells lambs deadweight to Randall Parker.

“Basically, we are giving them a super boost of all the good things that are present in colostrum,” he adds.

He reports that there have been no more cases of watery mouth than he experienced when he was using antibiotics.

“The difference is that we are protecting the good bacteria and we are avoiding resistance issues.”

How to avoid routine antibiotic applications

A recent study by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (Ruma) found that 30% of all farmers routinely treat all their lambs to prevent watery mouth and navel infections, a situation that could be avoided with good hygiene, says a Welsh vet.

Richard Davies BVSc MRCVS, of Fenton Vets, Haverfordwest, blames pressure of time and animal numbers overwhelming housing systems at lambing time.

Prevention, he advises, should focus on adequate colostrum intake and keeping the level of pathogens low in the environment.

“There is no magic bullet to replace good husbandry and cleanliness, and to rely on anything else, antibiotics or probiotics, will ultimately fail.”

Tips:

  • Clean thoroughly before lambing. Permanent floors, walls and hurdles should be cleaned of all organic material using a disinfected spray solution, then allowed to dry.
  • Apply hydrated lime to the floor as a base layer, before adding a thick layer of clean straw
  • As straw can be an ideal environment for bug growth, another approach is to add a layer of sand on top of the lime, then more lime and straw to help absorb fluid and prevent pathogens from growing
  • Clean individual pens between each occupant
  • Use “sick” pens to house clinical cases of scour and try not to reuse these during the season

The supplement

The technology behind the supplement was developed by Mayo Healthcare in conjunction with the National University of Ireland with support from an EU Horizon 2020 grant. It has already been granted a patent in several countries.

Panatec lamb tablets work by reacting lactoperoxidase, iodine and super oxide dismutase at specific ratios, a chemical reaction that benefits the lamb.

Mayo Healthcare managing director Killian O’Briain says there is no residue, therefore no risk of resistance.