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New Guidelines for Responsible Use of Antimicrobials in Cattle Production

11 August 2015

ANALYSIS - Cattle farmers should draw up, implement and regularly review an appropriate herd health plan that outlines routine preventive treatments and disease control policy, together with a veterinary surgeon.

And antimicrobial use should not prop up poor husbandry or failing management systems, according to new guidelines on the responsible use of antimicrobials in cattle production by from the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA).

The coalition of organisations representing all sections of agricultural production said that where required, antimicrobials should be viewed as an acceptable veterinary treatment complementing good management, good nutrition, vaccination, biosecurity and farm hygiene.

RUMA said that all farmers have a responsibility for the health and welfare of the animals on their farm and together with the vet they have to ensure the correct and appropriate use of antimicrobials including antibiotics.

Combinations of factors involving the cattle, the environment and the disease agent must be present for a specific disease to occur.

The correct use of husbandry practices and the environment will help to prevent disease.

RUMA says there are at least two reasons to ensure that cattle receive proper care – the ethical concern for that animal’s well-being and maximum production efficiency.

Management practices that incorporate good animal care are usually also the most effective.

“When cattle receive good care, production costs for the milk and beef produced are less than when cattle are not effectively cared for,” RUMA says.

“If certain management practices conflict with the well-being of the animals, the producer should adopt practices that put the animals' welfare ahead of short-term cost savings.”

The health of cattle and the incidence of disease are directly affected by key areas of management.

The level of nutrition promotes good animal health and prevents many health problems and farmers should know about the stresses, diseases, parasites and other health related conditions that may be unique to their area and especially to their specific operations.

Disease control measures related to genetics and environment management also deserve attention, especially when controlling health problems.

The guidelines, which RUMA says form part of most assurance schemes, call for farmers to be totally committed to producing safe food and they should manage their farms to reduce the risk of disease and in this way they can reduce the use of antibiotics and other medicines.

The guidelines say that treatment with medicines need a prescription from a vet and the vet needs accurate information to ensure a correct diagnosis.

It says that cattle farmers should be given clear instructions about the diagnosis, the medicines being used, the dosage and their administration.

The vet also needs to know all the information about other medicines the animal might be receiving.

“Cattle farmers should work with their vet to take appropriate samples for testing to help choose the right antibiotic to treat your animals,” the guidelines say.

“Your veterinary surgeon will choose the appropriate antimicrobial based upon this laboratory testing alongside on farm experience.”

RUMA says that all farms should have a hospital pen to isolate sick animals and it warns farmers not to borrow medicines from other farmers or use antibiotics that have been obtained illegally.

The guidelines warn about mixing medicines before injection, because this can damage the active ingredient and produce adverse reactions.

And they stress that two or more antibiotics should not be administered together, unless a vet advises.

Farmers are also warned about ensuring the appropriate withdrawal period before slaughter or mixing milk from dairy cattle that have been treated in the bulk milk tank.

The guide calls for accurate records to be kept of medicine use together with accurate information on the identity of cattle that have been treated and the condition that has been treated.

Medicines need to be stored correctly and unused medicines need to be disposed of safely.

If there are any adverse reactions to the medicines or antibiotics the supplier and the official Veterinary Medicines Directorate need to be informed.

RUMA stresses the need for farmers to work closely with the vets to collate records and to review the use of antimicrobials and they should investigate alternative treatments with the vet.

All cattle farmers and those in charge of stock need to have the appropriate levels of husbandry skills and knowledge to provide appropriate standards of care for the cattle.

They should know how to use a syringe and know the appropriate injection sites for the size of animal, the route of administration and formulation of the product.

“Good recording regimes monitoring the health of the cattle should be adopted throughout the farm system with regular management input from the farm veterinary surgeon,” the guidelines say.

“The overall aim should be to maximise animal health and welfare through good management protocols, resulting in antimicrobials being used as little as possible but as much as necessary.”

The guidelines offer a holistic approach to minimising disease set out by the Four Golden Rules helping to reduce the need to use antimicrobials, including antibiotics, without adversely affecting animal welfare.

However, RUMA says that it is important to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance without reducing the availability of necessary antibiotics.

In the guidelines, RUMA outlines the four guiding principles for disease control as:

  • Review biosecurity of new cattle introduced into a herd
  • Stress is a killer.
  • Good Management and Hygiene
  • Good Nutrition

As disease spreads around and between farms by contact with other cattle, screening and monitoring will help to limit the spread of disease.

The contact can also be indirect through a needle, surgical instrument, manure or people.

RUMA advises that stressed animals are far more likely to become diseased and this includes not only obvious physical stress factors such as overcrowding or management procedures, but also exposure to micro-organisms which cause major stress to the immune system such as BVD.

RUMA adds that there is no substitute for good management, hygiene and biosecurity measures and cleaning buildings and equipment coupled with good hygiene will all make a difference.

Good intakes of colostrum provide essential antibodies to protect calves as their immune system is developing. Balanced diets with adequate levels of trace elements, vitamins and anti-oxidants are essential if the immune system of cattle is to work properly in tackling diseases.

RUMA stresses that there should be regular consultation with a veterinary surgeon for help with disease prevention, control, diagnosis and treatment.

A herd health plan including vaccinations and parasite control should be developed and reviewed and updated often.

Basic disease prevention and control methods along with minimising stress to the animals should be used to the greatest degree possible.


Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock

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