How can I reduce antibiotics on my farm?
The use of antibiotics can be reduced by a systematic approach in cooperation with your local vet. Reduction will save costs, increase income and counteract antimicrobial resistance.
Why is it important to reduce the use of antibiotics?
The discovery of antibiotics throughout the 20th century was a milestone in modern medicine. However, inappropriate and excessive use in animals and humans has led to the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. The World Health Organization states that more than half of the total consumption of medically relevant antibiotics is in the animal sector, with a significant proportion used as a preventive measure and for growth promotion in healthy animals.
Many of the same microbes infect animals and humans, as they share the ecosystems they live in. The overuse of antibiotics in animals is, therefore, a significant threat to human health as seen from a one-health perspective. Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of a constantly developing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
Antimicrobial resistance negatively affects the prognosis of treating common infections and compromises the probability of successful medical treatment.
According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society. From an economical perspective, the inappropriate use of antibiotics results in a reduction in profit for the farmer due to an increase in expenses and a reduction in income.
Why is the use of antibiotics low in Norway?
Concurrently with the coronavirus pandemic, there is a growing political awareness on a global scale concerning antimicrobial resistance and the consequent lack of efficient antibiotics. This offers an opportunity to achieve meaningful action. In many countries, national awareness action plans for the appropriate use and reduction of antibiotics have been developed. However, many have yet to implement interventions that can lead to the sustainable use of antibiotics. In compliance with EU demands for the monitoring of antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance, the Norwegian government implemented an action plan, NORM-VET, in 2000. Accordingly, recordings show a 17 % reduction in the use of antibiotics in production animals from 2013 to 2018. The goal of reducing the use of antibiotics in agriculture has led to a change in treatment strategies, optimized routines for preventive veterinary medicine and a long-lasting emphasis on health in the national breeding program for Norwegian Red, the predominant cattle breed in Norway.
How can I reduce the use of antibiotics on my farm?
1. Assess the current situation
What was the antibiotic consumption last year? Ask your accountant or look at the invoices from all purchases of antibiotics to find the total amount and cost of this expense item. Keep records of your antibiotic use on an individual animal level, preferably including a diagnosis. Ask yourself; why did I end in a situation where use of antibiotics was the only choice? What about biosecurity and livestock exchange? Is my biosecurity good or am I allowing visitors to carry microbes into my farm? In the event of livestock purchase, am I aware of the risk of buying infections? Are antibiotics used as growth promoters or to hide deficiencies in farm management? Are you on top of the situation or are you falling behind, using antibiotics as "fire extinguishers"? Answering these questions will give you a good picture of where you stand today.
2. Set goals and plan how to reach them
What is the antibiotic consumption going to be next year? New goals should be set at a reachable level and linked to a measurable factor. High ambitions are good but be realistic. Link new goals to something that can be counted or measured like total amount of antibiotic used on the farm or numbers of mastitis cases that needed antibiotic treatment, etc. This makes it easy to see if you are moving in the right direction. Be specific about new management routines and involve your farm staff ensuring everyone is committed to the effort. Seek knowledge where it can be found. Plan future actions to reduce the use of antibiotics in cooperation with your local vet or health adviser. A fresh pair of eyes and some new thinking always comes in handy.
3. Breeding and genetics
Breeding for better health is a long-term approach, though necessary to have in mind for everyone planning to reduce antibiotic consumption. Normally it will take at least 15 to 20 years of targeted breeding before results are visible. Since Geno, the Norwegian breeding organization for dairy cows, has bred for better health since 1972, much of the work is already done in this breed. Crossbreeding to the Norwegian Red breed will reduce antibiotic usage since this breed transmits increased resistance to diseases, like mastitis, that are common to dairy cattle.