Safeguarding antibiotics for future use

The narrative surrounding antibiotic use in livestock production systems is unfortunately marred by an increase in the incidence of antimicrobial resistance. The emphasis on reducing antibiotic usage where it is not warranted should be 100% supported but the thought that all antibiotic usage in livestock production is bad is an area where we do not want to find ourselves.

Noel Doyle would like to see the emphasis on antibiotic use fall more under the brief of responsible or strategic use of antibiotics and warns that a failure to do so could limit the range of antibiotics at the disposal of livestock production.

If we do not get our house in order some very good antibiotics will be taken away from livestock production

“We need to get away from blanket treatment as this is just not viable. Practices such as blanket administration of Noroclav or Synulox for example to newborn lambs to protect against joint ill or watery mouth is something that just cannot continue.

“If we do not get our house in order some very good antibiotics will be taken away from livestock production.”

Noel says we also need to be careful in the argument regarding reducing the total volume of antibiotics used as if this is solely the focus it will drive usage of these critical antibiotics that are vital in human medicine.

“There are a lot of good traditional antibiotics that when used correctly do an excellent job.

“For example where oxytet is used correctly it is capable of addressing a wide range of issues. These antibiotics should be the first port of call for consideration, only moving to more critical ones where there is a very serious issue.”

Management practices

Noel says the main drivers of antibiotic use around lambing can all be reduced by management practices.

For example, blanket treatment of ewes to guard against enzootic abortion can be addressed by utilising one of the available vaccines on the market.

Similarly, he says the footvax vaccine can be strategically used to get on top of persistent lameness problems.

James McCay's impressive individual lambing pens. Each pen is cleaned where possible after every ewe but if not due to time pressure it is limed and cleaned after a maximum of two ewes passing through the pen.

While in terms of watery mouth or joint ill, hygiene and colostrum management can go a long way in eliminating problems.

He challenged every farmer to review their use of antibiotics and identify areas where improvements can be made.

“In some systems we have become reliant on antibiotics and are afraid to move away from their use for fear of issues occurring.

Even small changes adopted every year will leave your farm in a safer position

“I would challenge farmers to make small improvements every year. Can you avoid blanket-treating newborn lambs from the first 50% to 60% of ewes lambed or can you prioritise treatment of high risk lambs such as triplet litters.

“Even small changes adopted every year will leave your farm in a safer position with regards resistance developing and reduce usage across the sector.”

Stamp Project

Programme adviser Senan White presented details of a new initiative called the STAMP project.

The project which is co-funded by DAERA under the Research Challenge Fund and supported by industry bodies AgriSearch (lead partner), AFBI (research partner), Animal Health and Welfare NI, Livestock Meat Commission and Farm Vet Systems is in its infancy but when rolled out will be a valuable tool to benchmark antibiotic use.