Expert warns that farmers are at a crossroads in terms of antibiotic use

Farmers are at a crossroads when it comes to antibiotic usage on their farms, UK mastitis expert Peter Edmondson has said.

Speaking at the Bimeda conference on Tackling Mastitis in the Post-Quota Era, the UK-based vet told the 50-strong crowd in attendance that the European Parliament are pushing for reduced antibiotic usage on farms.

“We are at a crossroads, the EU Parliament is looking at how antibiotics are used and they want to reduce it further and further,” he said.

Already, he said, countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have reduced their dependence on antibiotic treatments considerably, with the latter reducing usage by 70% over a six year period. 

There is more an more pressure on antibiotic use through out the world. The use on antibiotics in food animals and humans is a real big concern.

Changes in antibiotic usage in the Netherlands

Source: Peter Edmondson
Source: Peter Edmondson

Does every cow need antibiotics at drying off?

Edmondson said Selective Dry Cow Therapy would help to reduced the amount of antibiotics used in dairy herds.

“With Selective Dry Cow Therapy, the use of blanket dry cow therapy which most farmers have used for years actually stops.”

He also said that not every cow in the herd will need antibiotics at drying off.

If the animals don’t have an infection then antibiotic dry cow therapy achieves nothing.

“The most important thing for farmers to realise is that dry cow therapy only has a benefit in cows that have infection at the end of lactation.

“If cows don’t have infection why would you actually treat them?,” he said.

Edmondson also said it is also encouraging to see that the cell counts on Irish farms have dropped from 300,000 in the 2010 to somewhere around 200,000 last year.

“That is actually a significant improvement in terms of what farmers have achieved at farm level,” he said.

Source: Peter Edmondson
Source: Peter Edmondson

Dairy processors concerned about antibiotic residues

According to Edmondson, 40% of all antibiotics used in dairy cows are used in dry cow therapies and the number one concern for processors is the presence of antibiotic residues in the milk.

“All you have to say to dairy companies is residues and that’s when absolute mayhem sets in.

“They want to provide a product to the consumer where there is no risk of food safety or residue contamination whatsoever.”

To reduce the risk of antibiotic residues entering the supply chain, he said that Selective Dry Cow Therapy has the potential to prevent infection from entering the udder during the dry period and thus the need for antibiotic treatment.

Dairy, Parlour,

The use of Selective Dry Cow Therapy using a product such as Boviseal, he said, can reduce the use of antibiotics by 50% at dry off.

“Dry cow therapy and teat seals are two totally different products with totally different functions and a lot of farmers get really confused between the two.

With Selective Dry Cow Therapy every cow is getting a teat seal at drying off and only cows that we know have got problems with infection get antibiotics at dry off.

“We have 40% use of antibiotics with dry cow products, with selective dry cow therapy we should be able to reduce antibiotic usage by about 50%.”

Using internal teat seals at dry off

Edmondson said there are lots of benefits of using Bimeda’s Boviseal Internal Teat Sealant as a Selective Dry Cow Therapy at drying off.

These include less cases of mastitis, lower antibiotic use and fewer worries about antibiotic residues in the milk of cows that calve early.

By using Boviseal internal teat seals at dry off we are going to reduce clinical mastitis levels by 25%, that means we are going to use less treatments for clinical cases.

“We get less toxic cases of mastitis around calving, because most of these will result from infections that get in during the dry period,” he said.

Farmers can actually save money, he said, because they are not putting antibiotic dry cow treatments into every cow.

“The benefits from Selective Dry Cow Therapy are really significant and to me it is a win-win situation for everyone.”

Boviseal 200 syringe photo

How can farmers use Selective Dry Cow Therapy?

For farmers to consider using Selective Dry Cow Therapy, he said they must have individual cell count data as it is the only way to access the status of every cow.

“If the herd has a low cell count then the risk from selective cow therapy is going to be very very slim.

“If the herds cell count is 250,000-300,000 or higher, then we know there is a problem with sub-clinical mastitis.

“So it makes more sense to actually tackle the cell count problem and then move to Selective Dry Cow Therapy,” he said.

Edmondson also said that official cut off point for detecting mastitis is a cell count level of 200,000.

If they are 200,000 or less these cows are deemed to be free from sub-clinical mastitis, if they are over 200,000 they have an infection.

He also said that use of Selective Dry Cow Therapy can be used on every farm, but it is a lot easy for farms who milk record.

“For the farmers who are not milk recording, they have two choices. They can start off milk recording, which probably isn’t going to be very popular in a low-to-rising milk price environment.

“Or alternatively, the can collect individual samples for cows and have them tested before they dry them off,” he said.