Antibiotic usage on dairy farms

support@redbackcreations.comProducer news

by Paul Crosson
Supply Strategy & Development Manager

Why is there such a focus on antibiotic usage at present?

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to become resistant to medicines and is now one of the most pressing issues facing the global health profession.
In addition to bacteria, other disease-causing organisms, such as fungi and viruses, are developing resistance to treatment. When taken together, the ability of these groups of organisms to resist conventional medication is called antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and it is projected that, without changes in antimicrobial usage, AMR will be responsible for 10 million deaths globally per year by the year 2050.
One of factors that lead to the development of AMR is the excessive use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics. In light of this, the exposure of consumers to antibiotics in food products is now seen as a major concern.

What does this mean for dairy farms?

Because of the risk of the development of AMR, there is now considerable focus on antibiotic usage on dairy farms by regulatory and food safety authorities. This has led to the development of test methods that have a high level of sensitivity to antibiotic residues in milk. Furthermore, the intensity of antibiotic monitoring is now much greater than in previous years.
The implications of this are:

  1. Some types of antibiotics that were only tested for occasionally in the past are now screened on a routine basis.
  2. With the new methods to detect antibiotics, even very low levels in milk can be detected.

It is most important to note that where antibiotics are detected in milk, we are not permitted to collect milk from that supplier until he/she provides a test-negative sample.

What can I do to minimise the risk of antibiotic residues in my milk?

There are three control areas that need to be monitored:

1. Medicines

  • Minimise the use of antibiotics on your farm
    Healthy herds require less antibiotic treatments. Herd health plans, incorporating biosecurity, vaccination, hygiene, nutrition etc., will minimise the need for antibiotic treatment. Selective dry cow therapy should be considered.
  • Follow instructions regarding usage and withdrawal periods
  • Withdraw milk for the correct length of time as indicated. Discarded milk may be put in slurry stores or spread on land.
  • Store medicines correctly
    Medicines should be stored as directed on the product label and disposed of when they have passed their expiry date.
  • Never use a product that is not licensed for use in dairy cows.
    It is critical that these products (e.g. florfenicol-based products) are not used on dairy cows including heifers intended for the milking herd. Always read the product label.

2. Management

  • Mark treated cows clearly
    Identify in a least two ways including a whiteboard in parlour.
  • Keep records
    The remedies book of your quality assurance programme (Red Tractor in NI and SDAS in ROI) and/or farm software will fulfil this purpose.
  • Use treatment protocols
    Always use protocols drawn up by your vet. Display protocols clearly for all staff.
  • Use residue screening tests
    Test milk before adding to the bulk tank after treatment or if any doubts at all.

3. Herd Management

  • Separate treated cows
    There is a major risk of residues remaining in the pipelines of milking plants. Ideally, cows under withdrawal should be kept in a separate group and milked last.
  • Keep dry cows separate
    Dry cows should be separate from the milking group all year round.
  • Test milk of all purchased cows
    You can never be sure of previous treatments. Bought-in heifers are also a risk.

We appreciate the challenges that may arise from greater control of antibiotic usage on farms and thank you for your continued support. If you have any queries or issues you wish to discuss, please contact your local Farm Liaison Officer or co-op advisor.