Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Less antibiotics means more milk in the vat

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Reducing the use of antimicrobials can mean lowering the risk of milk contamination and having to deal with fewer cows.
Simple things like teat spraying throughout the season can make a huge difference in lowering mastitis risk.
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Consider the amount of time you’d save if there were fewer cows to handle and a decreased risk of milk contamination. 

According to FMG, more than 60% of their contamination claims are attributable to antibiotics – an alarming statistic. 

So, what is the solution? It lies in the reduction of antimicrobial (antibiotic) usage as part of the effort to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, held from November 18-24, is an initiative driven by the World Health Organisation.

Its primary objective is to encourage action against AMR in order to prevent the escalation and widespread transmission of drug-resistant infections. And it makes this a good time to look at how antimicrobials are used on your farm.

The 2022/2023 season data in WelFarm shows us an average 17% of cows within herds were treated for clinical mastitis, while a further 13% were treated for other diseases (that does include calves).

Those figures are based on drug sales from vet clinics and suggest farmers are spending a lot of time dealing with sick cows, losing production and spending substantially on drugs.

Reducing use doesn’t mean not treating infections or culling heaps of cows; it’s about using them wisely as well as reducing the need to use them in the first place.

When it comes to mastitis, those simple things can make a huge difference, like classic teat spraying throughout the season and ensuring thorough coverage over all teats. 

To ensure proper coverage, you can take a paper towel or tissue, held flat on both hands, and touch it to each teat to check for teat spray residue. It’s pretty easy to miss a teat but something you want to avoid.

Reducing teat damage is another key aspect in mastitis prevention. Overmilking can cause cracks in the teat skin, providing a hiding place for bacteria. A method like MaxT can help mitigate the risk of overmilking and improve milking efficiency.

Having good hygiene for the administration process around dry-off is vital and vet clinics are more than happy to go over it with teams regularly. They want everyone to get it right as much as you do. Better still, get your vet clinic to assist with drying off.

Use herd testing to monitor somatic cell counts and determine which cows should receive dry cow antibiotic therapy. And make wise culling decisions.

Having healthy udders means more milk in the vat, better animal health and seeing fewer cows in pain from mastitis. There are also positive impacts on reproductive performance and ultimately less hassle when you don’t have to deal with treated cows.

Good hygiene and biosecurity practices can also make a difference, preventing the introduction and spread of infectious diseases. 

And having a focus on herd health management not only saves the need to use antibiotics, it also saves time and money when you’re not losing productivity and dealing with sick animals.

Regularly monitoring cow health and promptly diagnosing diseases can help start treatments early and avoid the need for antibiotics when possible. And when mastitis is detected, identifying the bacteria to match the correct antibiotic saves time and effort in case the wrong treatment is used initially.

Education about preventative measures, proper hygiene practices and biosecurity measures can help too. Ensuring that everyone involved in the farm is aware of the best practices can help minimise the risk of diseases and reduce the need for antibiotics.

Farmers using WelFarm with their vet are monitoring drug usage along with a number of other herd health measures. They are benchmarking against other farms regionally, nationally and against their own farm in the previous season. 

By having data available they are able to determine the best course of action to reduce antibiotic usage and ultimately do their bit to help the battle against AMR.

* Tennent is WelFarm’s general manager

This article first appeared in the November edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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