Responsible use of Medicines in Youngstock Management

Dr Tim Potter BVetMed PhD MRCVS, Senior Clinical Director, Westpoint Farm Vets.

The term “responsible use” is frequently used, but what does it actually mean?

“As little as possible, as much as necessary” is one phrase been used to describe the approach to responsible use of antimicrobial drugs on farm.  Antimicrobial drugs (antibiotics) are just one of the available tools for managing disease in livestock and it is essential they are used alongside good husbandry, biosecurity and preventative medicines such as vaccination.  In the face of a disease outbreak there may well be a place for antimicrobial drugs for immediate management, but it is important to identify the cause of the disease and formulate a management plan which will help reduce the risk of recurrence. Ultimately preventing disease in the first instance will be better for the welfare and productivity of the animal and makes most economic sense.

Youngstock disease is one area where antibiotics are frequently used in farm animal practice, often for the treatment of pneumonia and some cases of scours.  These conditions are frequently identified and treated by farmers without the direct involvement of a veterinary surgeon. It is therefore important that treatment plans for commonly occurring diseases are agreed as part of the health planning process. Such plans should include details of how to identify diseases as well as what treatment should be administered and when further advice should be sought. It is also important that such treatment plans are regularly reviewed. The annual medicines review now required by Red Tractor should be viewed as an opportunity to identify specific areas within your system where the antimicrobial usage is the highest and start the process of identifying management changes that can be implemented to reduce this usage.

It has been suggested that up to 50% of calves born in the UK do not receive enough good quality colostrum, leaving them at increased risk of disease and less likely to fulfil their long-term potential. Achieving early and adequate intake of high-quality colostrum is widely recognized as the single most important management factor in determining health and survival of the neonatal calf. All too often when we are dealing with issues with pneumonia and scours in young calves, they can be traced back to issues with colostrum feeding. Good colostrum management is the cornerstone of successful calf-rearing. By having a standardised approach to colostrum management, and through routine monitoring, it is possible to ensure that all calves receive what they need, reducing the incidence of calf disease.

For scours the key part of treatment will always be addressing the dehydration that it causes as it is this which will frequently be the cause of death. Do not underestimate the amount of fluid a scouring calf will lose in diarrhoea. Early intervention and providing additional electrolytes and fluid as soon as you see any signs of scour will help speed recovery. Scours can be caused by many different pathogens many of which are not treatable with antibiotics (e.g. rota and coronavirus). Rapid “penside” diagnostics can be used to identify the causative agents in cases of scours and highlight situations where additional therapies are required and help with instigating future preventative programmes such as vaccination.

Pneumonia remains a significant disease of youngstock and it is important that you can rapidly identify and treat the condition. Failure to intervene in the early stages of the disease will result in increased risk of treatment failure and potential long-term reductions in performance. There are number of studies that have demonstrated the problems with accurate diagnosis on farm and new technologies are beginning to help address this along with standardised scoring systems. Alongside rapid and accurate disease identification, the optimisation animal husbandry and use of vaccination will help minimise the impact of pneumonia on farm. Ensuring animals are kept in well ventilated sheds with proper drainage will reduce the risk of disease and avoiding keeping stock of different ages in the same airspace will help reduce potential disease transmission. We are lucky to have several very effective pneumonia vaccines at our disposal which can be given prior to periods of disease risk to reduce the impact of pneumonia. Antimicrobials will remain a key tool for the treatment of the disease, but it is essential that they are not used as an alternative to good management. We would also always advocate the use of an Anti-inflammatory drug alongside the antimicrobial as they have been shown to reduce the inflammatory process that causes the lung damage and makes the animal feel unwell.

Antimicrobial drugs are an important tool in the treatment of youngstock disease and it is essential that everyone involved in their use works to ensure they are used responsibly to help preserve their availability and effectiveness. The responsible use of antimicrobials means reducing the need for them through a holistic approach to disease control, and when they are required ensuring that they are used correctly. 

24th November 2020

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