Animal welfare and antibiotics – at what price?

11.04.13 Animal welfare and antibiotics – at what price? Discussion archive

The overriding message from this discussion was that prevention rather than cure is the preferred approach and essential for animal health and spending on illness is very different to investing in health planning.

Trusted advisors and sources of information include vets, books, other farmers and social media, with a range of info allowing an informed decision, and different options available. Good welfare is inherent of well structured management, stemming from good leadership mechanisms at farm level.

Welfare underpins animal performance, and it is the recognition of such systems that allay consumer fears about lack of traceability and poor animal welfare through supermarket assurance schemes and the relationship of trust with the producer.

Antibiotic use can be minimised through preventative measures, with management protocols and standard operating procedures advisable for different health scenarios and as a point of reference. Antibiotics should only be used when required and needed, otherwise the high cost is not justified in either monetary or management terms.

The discussion held on Thursday 11th April 2013 looked at the topic of “Animal welfare and antibiotics – at what price?” and generated a total of 642 tweets on the topic from 100 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a Where do you seek advice & info on health and welfare– vet, fellow farmers, farming mags, Defra publications? Is it useful?

  • Defra, Eblex, books and vets all very helpful for advice!
  • Vets, including fam, ex colleagues. Books. Social media. Other farmers. Not just Defra – USDA, CDC, govt websites worldwide
  • The vet, other farmers or twitter. Vets sometimes have a habit of telling you what will profit them in the end
  • Also universities and professors, non-govt organisations. All can be very helpful, it depends what I want!
  • Principally from fellow farmers + farming mags. Always useful tho not always applicable in same way
  • Vets don’t always offer the best advice. Read research on mastitis and dry cow tubes but didn’t have any knowledge on it.
  • I always refer to a practicing vet that I respect, but I keep in touch with all recent developments.
  • Mainly fellow farmers, there is no substitute for experience and you very rarely get a bill!
  • In my experience some vets simply regurgitate Internet pages then charge you for the privilege

Q1b What additional information or advice would you like to be made more easily available?

  • Different options when given antibiotics. Alamaycin seems to be the go-to and vets don’t seem to want to offer anything else
  • Badly need a national cattle welfare database. How do we know the situation or prove things are getting better?
  • Best time to worm animals & what the best practice is to minimise the burden eg. when to put them on new pasture
  • Definitely need more info reported back from slaughter regarding production diseases etc
  • Problem is research funding prioritises things which make profit, enhancing knowledge and understanding often does not
  • Very issue brought up by a retailer recently. Perception-antibiotics chosen on ads/free mugs not bacteria

Q2 Do you do health planning on your farm, and how much would you say you spend on animal health. What is your experience?

  • I’ve only worked on others farms, often herd health plans don’t exist formally or at all 🙁 but some do!
  • Don’t have a health plan as such. Don’t see the point. Other than worming if an animal is sick it is treated
  • Spending on (sick) animal health is very different to investing in (preventative) animal health and health planning
  • Planning is everything. As they say – a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Needs forethought not hindsight
  • Failing to plan is planning to fail. No health plan = disease plan. Individual business owner’s responsibility, surely?
  • Dont have a formal health plan as such. many get written and then left in the drawer anyway. should be ongoing
  • If everyone had health plan inspected by vets then no need for microcontrol over day to day administration
  • In my experience good farmers spend all on animal health, it’s what they do, not just about drugs!
  • A formal written plan with some SOPs can be useful but ongoing monitoring/management is key.
  • Absolutely – if animals are healthy veterinary intervention is low.Our cows eat only grass, vet visits are rare
  • Can be difficult – many farmers (& vets) see it as a tick-box exercise and it sits in drawer. Needs to be ongoing to count
  • Antibiotic use and health planning very imp. Dairy farmers under pressure to produce milk with low cell counts

Q3 Supermarket assurance schemes and red tractor have rules on animal health + welfare. How do they affect you? Are they useful?

  • If we have assurance schemes etc, why do we import things that are banned for production in this country?
  • Schemes don’t attract a premium, it just gives the supermarkets a way of buying the non assured lambs cheaper.
  • Not a farmer, but in general, the more one’s customers spell out what thay expect, the better chance you have of satisfying.
  • In view of horsegate its essential we show a paper trail for consumer. sometimes need to show youve done right thing
  • Consumers are looking for “genuine” assurance that isn’t discredited by food scandles
  • Supplier’s choice: Meet buyers expectations, make sale. Don’t meet, find other customer(s) with standards you can.
  • If only more consumers were able to adjudicate between good and poor food, they would need fewer schemes and assurances.
  • Assurance schemes are a substitute for trust, largely misunderstood by consumers and only exist because of long food chains
  • I think a rise in direct to consumer would be great in the internet age! Still, can some form of scheme plug the gap?
  • Short chains and trust in suppliers are rare these days so assurance schemes are a fact of life. Must be rigorous tho’
  • I suspect supermarkets got involved in welfare to back up their own product over others, but benefits for welfare on-farm

Q4 Do you think there is an economic/marketing benefit for farmers from ‘high welfare’ systems – and what is your experience?

  • Absolutely, but must also focus on business efficiency. Healthy, high welfare animals produce more, IF MANAGED EFFICIENTLY
  • High welfare does not necessarily need to mean ‘free range’ or ‘organic’. These are great for niche, but not enough market.
  • A marketing benefit in some cases, but we’re moving towards it being the norm in the UK. Which is good! But lessens impact
  • Some welfare systems need significant investment: if farmers invest they need longer-term (fair) returns from the market
  • Yes, but on a niche basis. Most people buy food on price.
  • Both. Welfare underpins animal performance. Poor welfare undermines it. Mktng: Ask self how you want to be known by others.
  • Massive; beef farmers look for calves reared on high welfare dairy systems to enter the market
  • First off, good welfare needs good people with good leadership, whatever the system.
  • High welfare standards are a no brainer! The market expects it and the livestock thrives on it…..why not?
  • Does the consumer know enough about farming to understand what a ‘high welfare’ systems is? Education might be required
  • High welfare is when animals are happy, doesn’t matter inside or outside just the ability to eat, rest and interact

Q5 Some say grazing outside equals better welfare over animals kept indoors. What do you think?

  • Big dairy herds indoors all year round on the same TMR all year round! pH of the rumen stays consistent
  • Agreed- from experience of indoor and outdoor systems, sheep/lambs living outdoors seem to have less complications
  • But livestock in doors there is more chance of speeding disease as same amount of animals but smaller space
  • Great (and controversial) question. Good example of needing science NOT emotion.
  • You can define a welfare standard for every country, climate, economy, environment all affect it. And assurance schemes vary
  • High welfare is v loose term & can b applied 2 both extensive & intensive sys both hve their merits, public oft dont get that
  • Not always but outdoors beats poorly ventilated sheds. Depends on breeds, which animals etc. Influence of TB /other diseases
  • I think a high yielding cow outside in this weather would be far from happy…
  • Grazing…no grass…mud…little shelter…driving rain = welfare? Housing…mattress & bedding…easy access water & food?
  • Animals tell you what’s best for them. End of Nov cows stay near gate wanting to come in. April they’re unsettled4
  • SO much of this depends on housing quality vs tracks at grass. Must factor in weather and feed availability. Predators?

Q6 How often do you use antibiotics and animal medicines on your farm, and what do you use them for?

  • Hard lambings, food abscesses, ocasional footrot (we vax) and mastitis. Only the necessaries, no overuse then!
  • As and when needed and on housing in lambers
  • Only when required, also some preventative vaccines, use I would deem as high welfare
  • When necessary AB’s1-2 times/yr for the odd cow, fly & worm reg as fluke/midge prob on river meadows, rest all homeopathic
  • Only when necessary. Have to know when to treat immediately and when to let nature take it’s course
  • Need to understand cost of antibiotics is high and therefore only used when required and needed. Same as pesticides and fert.
  • Little as possible. Used much homoeopathy, for mastitis both prophylactic & different remedies for specific mastitis types
  • Worm preventatively, treat problems, but might accept some preventative dosing in new lamb. Not sure of the downstream impact
  • Vets offer a wealth of knowledge but there are still vets selling lincospectin as a routine foot bath & marbocyl for mastits
  • One of my favourite questions when helping with a herd health plan, followed by how can we prevent it.
  • I’m using prob 1 tenth of the AB I used in first year taking this herd on, focus on prevention.Foot trim, BCS & selective culls.
  • Diff products work best on each farm. eg Nuflor good for calf pneumonia here but not on our vets other farms
  • Antibiotics only paper over the cracks and those cracks soon show through at an ever increasing rate!
  • Pneumonia? chucking antibiotics at them? 1) burn handful straw in shed, see where smoke goes. 2) Improve ventilation 3) repeat 1

Q7 There’s lots of talk of antibiotics on farm and human resistance to superbugs. How can we manage needs of animals AND humans?

  • More testing in both would be great. I know it increases money now, but it would be good investment for the govt to sponsor
  • Strict withdrawal periods on AB, human resistance unlikly to come from farm. over use of AB’s in NHS?
  • Need to focus on evidence-based antibiotic use, or we’ll lose the right to use them at all. Regular culture & sensitivities
  • Antibiotic resistance affects the future of our farming and our children, so we need tackle it on farm now!
  • The needs of people and animals are the same here, eliminate the routine use of antibiotics for BOTH as a start
  • Engage good vet. Ask questions and listen to advice
  • Are longacting AB’s such as 28day pneumonia drugs a good idea? as the soon drop below treshold. causing resistance?
  • Everyone mentioning prevention etc to stop use of AB but what do you do after hard lambings? (inevitable if you have bad SBV)
  • Dry Cow Therapy is a good starting place for minimising antibiotic use
  • Can’t always avoid treatment but good planning can minimise usage.

Q8 What do YOU do on a farm level to replace antibiotic use with management changes?

  • For calves, two best medicines are both free, colostrum and clean air.
  • I would target everything else before DCT just because you would be surprised how suceptable DC are.. you’l use more mast tubes.
  • Reduce overcrowding in sheds. Still too many crammed together on some farms
  • If you’ve got a viral infection, a’biotics won’t help. People get this wrong too! Culture required
  • Keep farm stress to a minimum. I use homeopathy as a first recourse
  • It’s the ‘simple’ things on many dairy farms: good cubicle design, fresh bedding, foot bathing etc all prevent disease

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 16 April 2013

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