RUMA in conversation with Veterinary Surgeon, Peter Siviter, about his work with small scale pig keepers and smallholders

Veterinary Surgeon, Peter Siviter BVetMed MRCVS, from Synergy Farm Health based in Dorset, talks to RUMA about his work with small scale pig keepers and smallholders, and the practice’s approach to antibiotic stewardship.

Peter says: “We take antibiotic stewardship very seriously. We haven’t stocked High Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HPCIAs) for several years, and as a practice we are reducing our overall antibiotic usage year-on-year. Our pig clients who are largely smallholders or small scale pig keepers and not commercial producers, are generally very low users of antibiotics.

“We work closely with these smallholders and have strong relations with them. Our advice and guidance regarding antibiotics is always well received and there is certainly no routine use of antibiotics. Treatment for sick animals when it does occur will be under direct veterinary supervision.

“Our medicine ordering and prescribing is closely monitored – clients cannot phone up and order a product unless it has been previously agreed by their routine vet for a specific condition and put on their ledger. In the case of smallholders who may, by the very nature of their small scale, have infrequent vet contact, a ‘meds visit’ will be required before the medicine can be prescribed if we have not seen the animals recently, or a veterinary consult over the phone if we are frequently on farm. We regularly run SUVM (Safe use of Veterinary Medicines) courses for all farmers who have to administer medicines, which includes correct technique and responsible use.

“These processes promote a close working relationship between the vet team and our clients, with a common goal in mind – high animal welfare through the responsible use of medicines – the right medicine, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Talking about the importance of the vet-farmer relationship, Peter says: “This is crucial.. However, I think it has to be the right vet with the right mindset to allow their good client relations to lead to responsible medicine use. In my opinion the good relationship is a necessary starting point, but it still requires courage and tact to steer a conversation towards (sometimes time consuming and costly) preventative measures and away from what is perceived as an ‘easy fix’ of antibiotics.”

When asked about the successes across the pig sector in its voluntary approach to reducing antibiotic use by 69% since 2015, Peter says: “I don’t work closely with the commercial pig sector, but the results achieved are commendable. I believe the answer is a combination of the generally progressive nature of pig farmers, the passion of the vets and farm advisors involved, and the current focus and importance on responsible medicine use overall alongside a focus on sustainable reductions.

“Motivation is stronger when a decision is voluntary. Change is never easy and there will always be those slower to act, but clearly the direction of travel is a very positive one. We should be very proud of the improvements that have been made not only in the pig sector but right across the UK livestock sectors, especially considering given the voluntary nature.

The importance of data

Peter acknowledges how important data collection is in order to set realistic antibiotic reduction targets. “Data is very important and it should be used positively to drive realistic change rather than as a way of criticising; there will always be a need for some responsible antibiotic use in some circumstances to address disease outbreak so this shouldn’t be about zero use but appropriate use to ensure continued high health and welfare.

“We cannot live in a world where sick animals are not permitted treatment which is why blanket bans aren’t appropriate. A proactive approach to health and welfare management, with no routine use of antibiotics, where common conditions are anticipated and avoided through good planning and management, husbandry and preventative medicine use is in place, but where antibiotics and other medicines are available for use in emergencies and unforeseen circumstances – that is where we need to be in farming.

“As vets we have a key role to play in tackling Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). The prescribing of medicines is ultimately our responsibility, so we are naturally integral to the situation. We play a key role in communicating the rationale behind medicine use and restrictions to farmers and that cannot be understated. We have to present the situation in a way that is optimistic and practical, reassuring our clients that AMR-lead decisions are invariably better for welfare and production in the long run.”

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