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Five steps to tackling antibiotic resistance on farms

Introduction

I’m going to take a look at what I think are FIVE steps, to start tackling the challenge of AMR or antimicrobial resistance on farms.

In particular, the focus will be on antibiotic resistance. This is where (smart) bacteria are developing ways to evade the mechanisms by which antibiotics work to kill them.

We must remember bacteria (good and bad) have been around long before the dinosaurs. They are adept at survival and adaption. Some have also evolved to become resistant to antibiotics by three main mechanisms. What is now a priority, is to slow this resistance development in both humans and animals.

We have had no new antibiotics since 1989! So we must now protect the ones we have and look at them as a precious resource.

They are still vital tools in human and animal medicine.

AMR also includes anthelmintics (wormers/dosing), much of the same rules apply as this becomes an increasing challenge in our farming systems.

So here goes

The five steps

  • Adopt a Proactive Mindset
  • Educate yourself on AMR
  • Utilize the data
  • Better therapy decisions and usage
  • Optimize biology

 

  1. Changing mindsets

Starting in the most difficult place. I have long since learned that to change behavior and animal health on farms, I had to understand people and their motivations.

For many people, antibiotics have been extraordinary tools to help their farming businesses. They have relied on these medicines to help improve animal health and welfare.

We should all do well to remember that farming isn’t easy and busy farms need to be balanced with life. This means to change behaviors and habits, can put farmers in uncomfortable positions and no one really likes change.

There is a fear out there that less availability of antibiotics will mean farming will only get harder.

In very simple terms we can be reactive or proactive in most aspects of our life. In treating disease an overuse of antibiotics is about being extremely reactive to the daily challenges of animal health. It is an easier position to be in or certainly get into.

Being proactive requires more planning (time) and always doesn’t reap the rewards right now.

We see sickness and we have a cure (antibiotics). We will always have sick animals and will always need antibiotics. We must, however, move to a proactive mindset where we reduce our need for them.

We must look at disease (particularly infectious bugs) as a result of problems with the system. Disease is often a factor of husbandry or management challenges. A proactive mindset will look at disease and ask how can I put measures in place to prevent it?

It also allows us in the present moment to reflect on why we are getting disease issues, then both be reactive in the immediate and proactive towards prevention.

I also don’t have to mention that a proactive approach is a more profitable one.

We must shift our mind-sets first and of course, that’s not easy.

  1. Education and regulation

I feel that if we look at challenges in any industry, we approach them through education or ultimately, we can fall back to regulation.

If I sidestep for a moment and look at the smoking ban in public places. We all know smoking is bad for us and years of education campaigns have made significant strides towards improving our knowledge. This sometimes is necessary to create awareness around impending changes or regulations. The smoking ban when it was enforced was very successful and previous education campaigns had paved the way for acceptance.

Regulation is a necessary evil in all our lives, human nature will always possibly default to what is easy but not what is always right. Don’t worry I’m very human myself and I am no prophet for exemplary behavior.

So right now in farming, I think we are in the education phase on antibiotic resistance. It is important as part of that farmers get a clear understanding of why this is going to be such a huge problem. This education paves the way for better decision making and reasoning around the implementation of proactive farming practices.

Ultimately with new regulations coming into place in January 2022, it will be regulation that will force the changes on many farms.

Now is a good time to start the education process and get ahead of the curve.

  1. Data and diagnostics

I have been involved in several projects and the development of farm-based programs designed to reduce antibiotic usage on farms. All of these programs have highlighted that better animal health is a big win for the animals, farmers and the industry.

The key to designing these programs has been measurement firstly. In simple terms measuring usage overall and then drilling into high risk areas. This allowed us know where to focus attention in specific animal health programs.

The first notable point on measurement is the positive stories around low usage on the farms we looked at. It also allowed us to target quickly areas that need attention “quick wins”.

Utilizing usage data in-depth, allowing for a really strategic approach to be developed. This data mining was like gold mining. Technology is getting faster and smarter, enabling in minutes what might have taken days.

There is a great fear of our data being used against us, or for the wrong reasons. possibly propagated by the like of Facebook knowing what we had for breakfast. For many, we feel we lose control of the inherent value we are not utilizing. So we keep it to ourselves.

Of course, there is commercial value in big data and it would be great to see farmers rewarded for harvesting that data. For now, though we need to start utilizing tools and data to make more informed decisions on our farms. There is going to be huge advantages to this.

Any farm can look at usage, what medicines and when. This becomes a great starting point for reduction strategies.

Diagnostics will also play a key role in this. In simple terms what pathogens are we dealing with (cultures)? Then what medicines do we need and which will be most effective.

Examples are culturing milk samples, PCR in respiratory disease and utilizing post mortem diagnostics from fallen animals.

The bugs are smart and we must engage in new smarter ways to deal with them.

Utilizing both data and diagnostics will be key.

  1. Improve treatment success

The bacteria will become resistant but only if we don’t adopt mechanisms to slow this down. Farmers must engage with their vets around decision making when it comes to using medicines. Better use of medicines will lead to better treatment outcomes. There is a huge space for training and education around these precious resources.

We all still need antibiotics but we must use them effectively and correctly. When I looked at data I was able to see trends around how effective treatments were.

These are prescription medicines and your relationship with your vet is key. Following the correct advice on treatments prescribed.

We really can speed up resistance issues when we overuse, underdose, don’t follow treatment courses etc..

Many of the countries I visited with like in Denmark were moving towards very farm and disease-specific treatment protocols. VetS and farmers were working on effective treatment regimes, they were measuring their success and also monitoring why they were using them.

A key fundamental point is to follow strict guidelines around treatment plans.

This will also involve more diagnostics in the future.

 

  1. Optimize biology

This is so simple but in fact, I think it will revolutionize how we manage the performance of our farms. I’ve looked at many challenges on-farm with a view to finding solutions

  • AMR and antibiotic resistance
  • Improving profitability
  • Improving animal welfare and health
  • Environmental efficiency

One common thread is improving animal health on farms. This starts with a clear understanding of animal biology. We need to optimize this to improve production and health. All the programs I have developed have had this at their core. I strongly believe this type of herd health approach is multidisciplinary and all about the team.

Happy healthy animals are more productive and profitable. Where we understand the key needs of animals in farming systems we can really improve animal health.

Vaccines, dosing, and medicines all play key roles in enhancing that. To truly optimize the biology of animals though we must focus on nutrition, the environment and the people caring for them.

This is my goal to help by education and training around animal health, so we have real sustainable solutions for livestock farming. I have been lucky in my career to take different approaches to problem-solving so…..

I feel these 5 steps are a really good place to start to tackle antibiotic resistance on our farms

  • Adopt a proactive mind-set
  • Educate yourself on AMR
  • Utilize the data
  • Better therapy decisions and usage
  • Optimize biology

 

My goal is to help make farming better

Happy safe farming

For more details on training contact me on tommythevetie@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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