Although the beef industry is a relatively low user of antibiotics there is still room for improvement.
The beef sector is aiming for a 10 per cent reduction in antibiotic use between 2016 and 2020 or to reach a usage level of 10mg per population correction unit (PCU) by 2020, which is the lower level on a mg/PCU basis, as well as a 50 per cent reduction in the use of highest priority critically important antimicrobials (HP-CIAs).
Collecting accurate antibiotic use for the sector is difficult, not least because of the number of systems in place, for example, suckler, calf rearers and finishing units. However, work is underway to establish accurate figures using sales data along with information being collated by various projects.
The long-term aim of the Beef Antimicrobial Use Working Group is to centrally collate antibiotic use data currently held in on-farm medicine records.
As part of the Antibiotics Task Force, vet Jenny Hull, of Black Sheep Farm Health, Northumberland, has been involved in setting the targets for the beef sector.
She says: “Collecting accurate on-farm data on antibiotic use is essential if beef farmers are to identify the areas where reductions can be made and to benchmark their use against similar farms. A beef e-medicine book and antimicrobial use calculator are both being trialled with the aim of making them available to farmers in the near future.
“With 80 per cent of my clients Red Tractor farm assured, the changes to the standards, which require more detailed recording and reviewing of antibiotic use, have really made farmers stop and think and work with their vet to address key areas.
“When compared to the dairy industry, the use of HP-CIAs in the beef sector is much lower. As a practice, we have stopped stocking them entirely, as have a lot of other vets, with no detrimental effect on animal health and welfare.
“Key areas have been identified where antibiotics are used in the beef industry. Most of this use is in youngstock, both suckler bred and dairy crosses, and overwhelmingly to treat respiratory problems.
“Preventing disease in the first place should be the main focus for farmers, with good colostrum management, vaccination strategies, and improving housing and husbandry all contributing to this.
“It all starts with calves getting sufficient good quality colostrum at the right time to ensure they get the necessary antibodies to provide immunity from disease.
“For farmers buying dairy-bred calves, they need come from a reliable source where they have been managed correctly in the early days of life and a herd which is of high health status.
“Suckler cow producers may not always give the same consideration to colostrum quality, assuming it is ‘alright’.
“Typically, suckler cows are fed a low energy diet, however, trials our practice is involved with are showing feeding good quality protein pre-calving is the one prevailing factor which impacts on the quality of colostrum the cow produces.
“Vaccination strategies should be discussed with your vet and implemented on the basis of perceived risk but planned well in advance to maximise effectiveness.
“Immuno-suppressing diseases, such as BVD and Johne’s, in a herd increase the likelihood of secondary infections, such as respiratory disease, so addressing these is very much part of an overall prevention-is-better-than-cure approach.”
Main reasons for using antibiotics in beef cattle are:
Reducing the need to use medicines can by helped by: