Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

Farmers need to adapt methods to move into modern era and away from antibiotic reliance

WORRY: Antibiotic resistence linked to mis-use at farm level is becoming a major concern in our hospitals
WORRY: Antibiotic resistence linked to mis-use at farm level is becoming a major concern in our hospitals

Peadar O Scanaill

One thing that every farmer is aware of is antibiotic residue in the milk immediately after calving.

The number of farmers failing the stringent residue tests is very low indeed but problems have been encountered and these can prove very costly for milk suppliers.

However, residues of antibiotics in milk pales into insignificance in the face of the emerging threat of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is now a massive worldwide and species-wide problem. Antibiotic resistance (or anti-microbial resistance, AMR) is the biggest monster of all when it comes to the use of antibiotics in both animal and man.

Hospitals and doctors are facing daily problems with MRSA, C.difficile and multi-resistant salmonella strains, never before seen in man. Overuse and underuse, and abuse and every use, of antibiotics in either man or beast, simply add to the burden of more resistant strains of bacteria.

Every time we reach for the bottle to inject an animal, we run the risk of adding to the problem of antibiotic resistance. Originally, when an antibiotic was used, all the focus was on the residue left behind in the milk when an antibiotic was used. And of course, that is still uppermost in our minds as we milk our cows and send the milk into the bulk tank.

No one should ever let antibiotic residue into the bulk tank, we all know that. But the huge emphasis nowadays has moved to encompass a phenomenon called antibiotic resistance.

So, even weeks after all the residue has left the cow, our use of antibiotics in that cow has set off a chain of bacteria which could now be resistant to that drug.

That resistant family of bacteria can, over time, make its way off that farm into the general population and ultimately end up as a multiple resistant disease of humans.

Also Read

And yet we still practice to use eight weeks' of continuous use of antibiotics in every cow in a dairy herd for every 10 months of milk production. Well, that show can not continue endlessly down that avenue.

We must change our ways. We must segregate our cows into batches using somatic cell counts (SCC) and milk recordings.

Batch one gets teat sealer and no dry cow tube; batch two gets teat sealer and dry cow antibiotics, and the last batch gets active treatment of the current intra-mammary infection to bring her somatic cell count into either batch one or batch two. If the really bad offender of a high SCC cannot be brought into line, then she's heading for the culling list.

If we wish to remain a leading player in the global dairy market, we will have to adapt herd management and move away from our reliance on blanket dry cow therapy.

Irish Independent