Innovation for agriculture - Veterinary Practice
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Innovation for agriculture

Antibiotic resistance was the focus of the Innovation for Agriculture meeting in December

For those in large animal practice, Innovation for Agriculture (IfA) may be an influential information
source for their clients. If the one-day conference on ‘practical approaches to reduce antibiotic use on dairy
farms’ is typical of the 11 similar gatherings available
during January and February for beef, sheep and dairy, the
partnership involvement between veterinary knowledge
and farmer implementation will be considerably enhanced.

On arrival, each delegate was made aware of four
outcomes: we will go home 1. better informed about
reducing antibiotic use on dairy farms, 2. with practical
strategies to introduce on dairy farms, 3. in no doubt that
changes for the better have to be introduced on all dairy
farms, and 4. motivated to play our own parts in giving
our children, and theirs, a realistic chance of avoiding
the possibly fatal consequences of an antibiotic-resistant
infection. David Gardner, CEO of IfA, explained that the
project is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and
a three-year programme is ongoing with planning and
development in the areas of livestock and antibiotics,
sensor technologies to offer data-driven dairy decisions and
improvements in soil health and water management.

Aled Davies (PRUEX) gave an account of visits to many
overseas livestock situations, which challenged his former
understanding about bacteria and antibiotics. Aled did not
know that antibiotics were ineffective against viruses, but
he has caught up quickly with technical knowledge. One of
his conclusions is that improvements introduced on-farm
need to be communicated to consumers.

Professor Peter Borriello (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) explained the problem is global and requires
a global response. Any antibiotic use could select resistant
strains of bacteria, not just antibiotic misuse. The promotion
of the need to complete a course of treatment is now
challenged and alternatives to the use of antibiotics are the
way forward. The O’Neill report highlighted that developing
a new antibiotic is a high-risk financial venture with a global
pressure to use less volume of product.

Infection control is the key issue in both humans
and animals. The UK adopted a five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy which emphasised the need for a
partnership programme on a voluntary basis. The usage of
antibiotics in farming is falling more rapidly than forecast.
As products are switched away from the critically-important
antibiotics, it is expected that the total number of treatment
courses will fall, but that the total volume of administration
may rise as the older products require larger doses per
animal. The UK is an international leader on the animal and
human antimicrobial resistance issues.

Reduce, refine, replace

Dr Elizabeth Berry (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance) discussed the dairy sector voluntary
targets on reducing, refining and replacing antibiotic use. An
overall reduction of antibiotic use in all forms in the dairy
sector is targeted with a specific reduction in the use of
intramammaries at the end of lactation and during lactation,
plus an increase in the use of teat sealants at drying off.
The use of critically-important antibiotics, including 3rd
and 4th generation cephalosporins and uoroquinolones,
is to be halved by 2020. The speaker stressed the need to
avoid any negative impact on animal welfare, but antibiotic
footbathing and feeding antibiotic-laden waste milk to cows
are questionable practices.

Dr Kristen Reyher (University of Bristol) explained that
the college farm animal practice had demonstrated that
production parameters, including fertility, udder health,
mobility and culling rates, can be maintained and even
substantially improved alongside a complete cessation
in the use of critically-important antibiotics, as well as an
overall reduction in the use of antibiotics on dairy farms.
Collecting actual farm data has been illuminating for both
researchers and farmers. Discussions with farmers and
vets have shown that team working is essential, with trust
between both parties.

In recognising that awareness alone does not lead to
behaviour change, farmers identify and set the changes they can introduce and the performance often exceeds
expectations. Farmer action lists need to be reviewed and
reasons for uptake and difficulties identified and discussed.
There are challenges for veterinary surgeons who ‘don’t
want to be the vet who doesn’t prescribe and animal
welfare is compromised’. There is a good farmer mindset,
where additional treatments are seen as ‘doing the cow
well’. Open on-farm discussions are highly relevant. It is realistic for a veterinary practice to aim to voluntarily
eliminate the use of all highest priority critically-important
antibiotics from dairy client herds by 2020.

Embracing technology

Tom Clarke (Synergy Farm Health) emphasised the need
for data collection. Actual antibiotic treatment data is
hard to obtain over a large number of farms with different
recording systems. The DataVet project uses VetImpress
and FarmImpress apps to capture farmer and vet antibiotic
treatments, disease diagnosis and health data. The data
are aligned with practice-level medicines sales data, cattle
tracking system, cow identification and milk recording.
Benchmarking of the information, with an individual farm report, allows effective discussions between vets
and farmers. An assessment of antibiotic use across the
practice shows there are still some herds with a high
usage. There is a range of prescribing from individual vets,
within a practice policy to reduce antibiotic usage. The
speaker said that some farmers are ‘wed’ to their treatment
regimes, but antibiotic stewardship plans involving discussion groups had resulted in half the practice herds no
longer using critically-important antibiotics.

A panel discussion between Tom Clarke, Tim Downes
(organic farmer), Nigel Underwood (Elanco) and Professor
Mark Fielder (Kingston University) provided details of
developments, intentions and workable systems. It was
encouraging to hear that the concerns about antimicrobial
resistance have led to ‘new money’ for the commercial
development of diagnostics.

Richard Lloyd (IfA) outlined many of the sensor
technologies and products that are currently available.
Dairy farmers are aware of the direct costs of disease (vets,
drugs, labour, discarded milk), but less aware of the indirect
costs of loss of production, etc. With sensors, the farmer
must learn to ‘trust the system’ with health and nutrition
alerts available from mobile phones linked to sensors.

Aled Davies concluded the session by describing the
elimination of bio lm that was protecting harmful bacteria,
utilising other bacteria. A video showing udders and teats
being sprayed with bacteria as an alternative to chemical
teat spray and teat dip generated discussion. The speaker
indicated that the sprayed bacteria acted by removing
moisture from the teat, and that attacking the biofilm with
bacteria reduces wetness in bedding and cleans away the
internal sludge lining water pipes.

In conclusion, the chairman said it was a good sign
that the industry was taking ownership of the antibiotic
resistance issue and that it is worth giving new ideas and
technologies a chance to prove themselves on-farm.

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