Good nutrition key to antibiotic reduction

Farmers must utilise alternative treatments and good nutrition to protect the future of critically important antibiotics, according to speakers at a recent farm seminar.

Organised by CMC, Crediton Milling Company, the seminar brought together panellists including top farm vets, agricultural bank managers and a local dairy farmer, and attracted around 60 farmers from across the South West.

“Despite farm antibiotic use being at an all-time low, a study by Nottingham University recently revealed that 25% of UK dairy farmers are responsible for 50% of the total antibiotic use on farms,” said chairman Ian Harvey, financial director at Dairy Crest Direct. “One question to the panellists, was: Should there be tougher penalties on the minority?”

Tony Kemish a vet at St Boniface Farm Vets, said the industry had a duty to protect antibiotic efficacy. “Last year was the first recorded human death from antibiotic resistance that came as a result of widescale usage in a poultry unit in China,” he explained. “We have a major responsibility with our antibiotic use.”

While there is still a much-valued place for antibiotics, there are other products and therapies that are cheaper and – in some cases – just as efficient, added Mr Kemish.

Alternative therapies and treatments are becoming increasingly popular; however, it is important not to overlook the importance good nutrition can play in boosting immunity and therefore reducing the need for antibiotics, explained Pete Davis, ruminant nutritionist at CMC. “High quality forage and diets are key to promoting immunity in livestock. If the animal’s nutritional demands are not met it can lead to a range of metabolic, digestive and infectious disorders.”

It is therefore important to tailor the diet to each stage of the animal’s life cycle or lactation and consider including mineral blends to give immune systems an extra boost, he added. “We have done a huge amount of research into the role that minerals can play in ruminants. Minerals like zinc are vital for boosting immunity and improving skin keratinisation, which can help form a robust barrier against bacteria and infections entering the body. It is really worth considering including them in the diet to help reduce reliance on antibiotics.”

In response to the question over tougher penalties on overuse of antibiotics among a minority of dairy farmers, Phil Cork, head of milk supply at Crediton Dairy said: “Antibiotic use is a huge issue. We have to improve, or the government will force us into it.”

If farmers don’t act to protect the future of these important antibiotics, they potentially face a future without them, added Mr Kemish. “We need to be thinking about the next generation and what is going to be available. The bottom line is that no medical companies are researching new antibiotics and that’s pretty scary. The most important thing is that together we ensure those antibiotics are still active and useful going forward.”