University of Bristol vet Dr Gwen Rees conducted her PhD research into dairy farmer attitudes to medicine use and recording.
Livestock medicine usage remains a hot topic, with continued industry pressure to reduce the need for antibiotic use in the dairy sector.
Farmers have responded, with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) group
reporting a 53 per cent reduction in sales of antibiotics in farm animals, along with a seven-year high for vaccination sales in calves and sheep in 2018.
Dr Gwen Rees, from the Univeristy of Bristol, says that while these figures are welcomed, what is still
a concern is the storage and management of all medicines on-farm including pain-relief and vaccines.
She says: “We wanted to determine the knowledge gaps and how farmers and vets can work together to narrow them.”
One of the study’s aims was to determine on-farm storage of prescription veterinary medicines.
“We reviewed the contents of farm medicine cupboards on a number of dairy farms, including how they manage prescription veterinary medicines and how they dispose of empty bottles,” says Dr Rees.
“From the study farms, we found 74 per cent had expired medicines on-farm, with one farm still holding on to vaccines 16 years out of date. Generally, there was an attitude of ‘use until the bottle is empty or the vet tells us not to’.
“This highlighted a big knowledge gap about what to do with expired medicines, with very few farmers saying they frequently discussed with their vet what was in the medicine cupboard.”
Dr Rees advises farmers and vets to conduct a ‘medicine cupboard health check’ as part of the annual herd health review, and to work with their vet to ensure they are using appropriate medicines.
“Stand in front of the cupboard or fridge or storage box and think, what do I use most frequently
and what has not been used in over a year?
“Do I know which medicine to use and when? Check if everything is within date and licenced, and if you know all the withdrawal periods.
“For those which are hardly used, talk with your vet to see if you still require them or if there are alternatives available.
“For bottles which are unlicensed or out of date, discuss correct disposal. Your vet should be able to do this for you.”
Only 63 per cent of the farms were storing medicines correctly.
Dr Rees says while this is a good proportion, the 37 per cent who incorrectly stored vaccines and prescription veterinary medicines could impact treatment effectiveness.
Dr Rees adds that effective vaccine storage includes having a vaccine-only fridge, keeping a thermometer in the fridge to monitor maximum and minimum temperatures daily, and avoiding putting vaccines at the back of the fridge where ice can form.
The study also found on-farm medicine records varied from very accurate to non-existent.
“Recording and managing your medicine use and stock is vital, particularly when meeting assurance scheme requirements and creating herd health plans,” Dr Rees says.
“It does not have to be high-tech, there just needs to be one place where all medicine use is recorded, such as in a medicine book or in the main farm diary.
“You should note the medicine used, why it was given and how much was administered, and it is also valuable to include withdrawal periods and any subsequent doses needed to fulfil treatment,” says Dr Rees.
“This is equally true for vaccination protocols – record when annual and booster vaccines should be given.”
To continue to reduce the need to use antibiotics, Dr Rees says the conversation about what is being used and why needs to continue.
“If there is a risk of exposure to diseases such as IBR, BVD, leptospirosis or BRD, consider a vaccination programme to prevent outbreaks occurring.
“It is also valuable to continually review your current medicine usage with your vet to see if there is any peaks or troughs in use.
Through doing this, you can see if further preventative measures can be introduced, such as alterations to biosecurity management, which allows the business to set targets to reduce disease incidence.”