Improving herd health and reducing antibiotics essential to dairy future

Sally Wilson

Farmers are under growing pressure to improve animal health in order to cut down on antibiotic use, so this year’s Dairy Show aims to help producers meet these demands. It is running a series of seminars focusing on herd health and medicine use, attracting top veterinary speakers from across the UK.

“Changing government targets and global pressures on antibiotic usage are forcing farmers to take a fresh look at their approach to herd health,” says head of shows, Alan Lyons. “This is an issue that the industry needs to tackle as a united body. It is no good just expecting farmers to make these changes alone, so we are bringing together some of the UK’s leading vets to host seminars on the subject.”

The farming industry is already making changes, with a 10% reduction in antibiotic usage last year, to 56mg/kg. However, with rising public concerns around the impact of antibiotic resistance on human and animal health, there is a need for the industry to respond, says Paddy Gordon, director at Shepton Vets. “We are identifying the level of antibiotic use on farm in order to develop a reduction strategy.”

One of the first areas to brush up on is to understand medicine use on your own dairy farm. Gwen Rees, a vet and PhD at the Bristol Veterinary School, aims to provide a background to antibiotic resistance and cover which antibiotics are more acceptable to use and which present the most risk.

Identifying risky behaviour on farm is also part of tackling the issues; from storing and administering medicines correctly to reducing the chance of sickness in the first place. “Antimicrobial use has become a real priority for the dairy industry and is a global problem,” says Miss Rees. “Dairy farmers should be tackling it now as the issue is only going to get more important, with further rules and regulations.”

There are still antibiotics in use which are critically important to human health, and it is vital these should be cut back, she adds. “By implementing standard protocols for medicine use and a practical herd health plan on farm, farmers can do this.”

Taking the first step might seem daunting, but there are a number of approaches farmers can look at immediately. Adapting buildings is a good place to start, suggests Lisa Morgans, vet and PhD student at Bristol Veterinary School. “Look at respiratory issues and address ventilation, air flow, cleanliness and cow comfort.”

Lisa Morgans

Making sure calves get the best start in life also impacts herd health, so Miss Morgans suggests paying attention to colostrum management, including measuring antibodies. Farmers can also foot trim more often, pick up on lameness sooner or look into adopting selective dry cow therapy. “Have the conversation with your vet to find out which antibiotics are less critical and if what you are doing is right for your herd.”

According to Mr Gordon, not all mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics, while farmers can also focus on transition health and preventing other diseases such as Bovine Viral Diarrhoea. “These are all targeted at reducing usage.”

Sharing knowledge, ideas and experience through farmer action groups is another way Miss Morgans is encouraging producers to approach reducing antibiotics. “Farmers can harness their own expertise to reduce their reliance on antimicrobials. The views of farmers should shape the future of policy on livestock antibiotic usage.”

Sally Wilson, partner in Evolution Farm Vets, Bridgwater, says that increasing farmer education is laying a modern-day foundation for improving herd health and for understanding how to gain best advantage from alternatives to antibiotic use. “Building knowledge can only improve animal welfare and as such, is one of today’s best investments.”


‘Building a healthier herd: What more will be expected and what more can we do?’ – by Sally Wilson BVMS DBR MRCVS, at Evolution Farm Vets, Bridgwater.

It’s cheaper than a dead cow’ – Understanding medicine use on dairy – by Gwen Rees, University of Bristol Veterinary PhD student funded by the Langford Trust.

Power in participation’ – Can farmers lead the way in reducing antimicrobial use in dairy farming? – by Lisa Morgans vet and PhD student at Bristol Veterinary School.

‘Reducing Antibiotic Use on Dairy Farms’ – by Paddy Gordon, partner at Shepton Vets.

‘Digital Dermatitis’ Cow Clinic – by Steve Paul in association with NACFT.

  • The Dairy Show will be held on 4 October at the Royal Bath & West Showground. Schedules for show classes are available online, and advance saver tickets can be purchased from