Milk recording, vaccinations, better herd management and alternatives to antibiotics are key to ensuring that Irish farmers are ready when new veterinary medicines regulations come into force in January 2022.
In eight months’, significant changes will be made to veterinary and farming practices here as the new regulations serve to restrict the use of antibiotics and antimicrobials in food-producing animals.
The EU Veterinary Medicine Regulations 2019/6 are in response to the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of its top-10 global public-health threats.
Speaking at a recent AMR webinar hosted by Animal Health Vision, veterinarian Robert Flahive told Agriland that there are a number of things that farmers can do now to be well positioned to deal with these fast-approaching restrictions.
Mastitis and milk recording
“Dealing first with mastitis, I am telling farmers to milk record now, and trying to convince anybody who is not milk recording to start doing so,” he said.
Currently between 43-44% of the national dairy herd here undergoes milk recording but that number has to increase – and fast.
Milk recording will be critical to maintaining good herd health after January 2022, particularly with respect to mastitis.
After this date, blanket treatment of mastitis will not be permitted. It is understood that vets will not be legally allowed to dispense dry-cow tubes to any farmer who cannot provide documented evidence that there is infection.
Milk recording provides valuable data including, but not limited to, the somatic cell count (SCC), which is essential information when deciding what cows require treatment.
“Mastitis the one area where most antibiotics are used at the moment,” said Robert.
“We use them on the dry cow; we use them on clinical cases of mastitis; and we use them on sub-clinical cases, on the high-cell-count cows that are not showing signs of mastitis,” he explained.
Milk recording and SCC
The easiest way to document infection in cows is with the SCC.
“At the moment in Ireland, the number is 200,000 SCC and if the cow is below that number consistently for the year, she is not entitled to dry cow-therapy anymore.”
Blanket dry-cow treatment is no longer carried out in several European countries, the Netherlands being one of them.
Selective dry cow therapy has been implemented nationally there for the last two years, according to Professor Johanna Fink Gremmels, lecturer and specialist in veterinary pharmacology and toxicology, who also spoke at the webinar.
The SCC cut off is 150,000 in the Netherlands and treatment is permitted for SCCs above this, but it must be documented.
“Every vet and farmer must document all antibiotic use to a central database, which is published,” she said.
“Honestly, this has only had a positive effect because you see the number of mastitis cows going down simply because people think more, about the animals, and about sustainable therapies.
“So we have an overall reduction of mastitis cows and the cell count remains low too.”
‘Prevention is better than cure’ may be an over-used phrase, but in relation to combatting AMR, it is appropriate.
With this in mind, the next thing that farmers need to be considering is greater use of vaccines, said Robert.
“For diseases like pneumonia in calves, for example, we are trying to promote vaccination,” he added.
Pneumonia poses a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of calves, with severe cases causing death. Vaccination can help stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, which protect the animal against infectious pressures once they are challenged by those pathogens.
“There are a lot of vaccines on the market that are not used for economic reasons, as people don’t think the price is justified.
“Antibiotics are cheaper than vaccines, so traditionally, vaccines were not chosen. That needs to change,” said Robert.
Bulk tank screening
Another important measure that farmers can use to give them a better picture of their herd health is bulk tank disease screening.
“We are trying to get everyone on board with this now,” said Robert.
“Bulk tank screening can inform you about what is circulating in your herd, whether it is infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine viral diarrhoea, and a fluke-level test can also be done at certain times of the year too,” said Robert.
Faecal sampling is an effective way to determine if dosing is required and if so, what it is required for.
Faecal sampling plays an important role in preventing resistance, as it removes the necessity to blanket treat and with all wormers restricted after January 2022, this is very important.
“We have been asking farmers to submit faecal samples from different age groups ahead of dosing,” explained Robert.
“This allows us to see what animals are infected, what they are infected with and then we decide, based on that, what we are going to treat them with.
“Previously, we would have done blanket treatment with all cows getting a fluke and worm treatment. Now, we wait until the results of the faecal samples are back from the lab, and based on the results, we decide what products to use.
“For example, young stock might be heavily infected with lung worm while mature cows might only have rumen fluke. So we would use different products based on this information.”
“There are many other treatments coming out now including teat-sealing (for eifers); new modulators that can alter the immune system of cows at strategic points – around calving, for example; and non-antibiotic treatments too.
Most diseases are multifactorial, said Robert, and along with responsible use of antibiotics, good management on the farm – relating to housing, stocking density, reduced cull rates, better breeding – also contribute to better health and wellbeing of animals.
Intensification of our farming system demands better management to guarantee this.
“Antibiotics cannot be used to cover deficiencies in management,” he said.
Hoof disease is a good example of how better management can promote better health and prevent a negative outcomes.
“A lot of cows are culled because of hoof disease although we do use a certain amount of antibiotics if cows are lame, because they are obviously in distress and in pain.
“This is all related to management issues, especially with the structural changes in farming,” said Robert.
“With herd sizes getting bigger, we see herds doing a lot more walking, and where you have a lot more walking, you will have more hoof disease.
“Better management will enable farmers to catch things like this before they get out of control.”