We need your help to better understand antibiotic usage on pig units

Mandy Nevel is AHDB’s senior veterinary manager and a former lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College

The pig industry has made great strides in reducing antibiotic use and this success is due to the immense efforts of producers and their vets. Low hanging fruit, in terms of the easy changes that could be made, have largely been harvested and we are, as expected, seeing a flattening off in the reduction in use.

This year it’s been challenging to achieve further reductions – with respiratory disease outbreaks at the start of the year, followed by an upsurge in swine dysentery over the  summer. These disease challenges have, quite rightly, had an impact on antibiotic use levels. Our target of 99mg/PCU by 2020 may not be easy, but we must keep our foot on the pedal.

Treating early is key in a disease outbreak, but with a spotlight on antibiotic use, some may be concerned at treating too early.

We must ensure that the welfare of animals is not compromised by a reluctance to treat. Nevertheless, we must continue to demonstrate that we are using antibiotics responsibly and understand what is behind the higher levels of antibiotics being used on some units.

There may well be good reasons and it would be helpful to understand.

For the benefit of the industry, AHDB would like to get a better understanding of the reasons behind the high levels of use. Is it because of disease challenges? Or are there other barriers to making changes?

Understanding the costs associated with any changes that may be required is fundamental to a business. At AHDB, we are working with academic colleagues on a research project to try to understand the costs associated with changes on farm that are used to control disease. This could be anything from changing the flow of pigs in a system through to depopulating – what does it really cost? And what needs to be considered on the farm?

This is where we need your help.

This three-year project aims to work with producers and vets to capture information on the factors to be considered when looking at the costs. These will be used to produce economic models that can help producers make informed decisions.

So, if you have made changes or are considering making changes on your farm to control disease or to change the way you use antibiotics, we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you are considering installing a water medication system or planning a depopulation.

Capturing the real-life challenges and costs on farm will be key to helping us understand how we can support producers in using antibiotics responsibly. Similarly, if you are having difficulties reducing antibiotic levels, we’d like to hear from you to understand the ‘on the ground’ challenges you are facing.

Vet or producer, we want to hear your views – please email: Mandy.Nevel@ahdb.org.uk or call 02476 478796.

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