Ceredigion sheep farmer, Rhun Williams, keeps a flock of 650 ewes on his farm in Tregaron. Rhun talks about the benefits of using the Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers (WLBP) app to record antibiotic usage and why it is important for the sheep sector to build a picture of antibiotic use. He has also worked hard to reduce lameness in the flock and explains below how he has used the five-point lameness reduction management plan to provide a clear strategy to control lameness on farm.
Rhun, who works closely with his vet Jim Hopkins on the development of health plans, says: “To reduce lameness in our flock I have over the last three to five years implemented the five-point plan and identified at which point in the year lameness was worst.
“Lameness within our flock was at its worst during housing, and although antibiotic treatments were used at that time, it was inevitable that there were lame ewes being turned out post lambing thus spreading the problem right at the start of the grazing season. This in turn had a snowball effect with lambs going lame which meant a lot of time foot bathing ewes and lambs and attending to the lameness.
“In 2018 I installed plastic slats in the lambing shed and since then this has reduced our lame ewes during housing by 80%. Overall lamb performance has also improved as we have not had the lameness challenge during their grazing period.”
Rhun is also a user of the Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers (WLBP) App which was exclusively created for WLBP and is designed to simplify and standardise livestock record keeping and eliminate errors when entering vital medicinal information.
Rhun says: “Using the app is important to record your antibiotic and medical usage on farm and I would encourage other farmers to use it as it simplifies your recording system, and you can also record in the field at the point of administration.
“In my case I upload the data by scanning the QR code on the product; this then transfers all the relevant data (batch no, use by date etc) to your records.
“It is important to record your antibiotic data to provide evidence to the consumer of the quality of your product. Being able to demonstrate low and responsible usage is important for the sheep sector as we don’t currently have that cohesive picture of low use.”
Discussing the role vets play in the recording of antibiotic data, Rhun’s vet, Jim Hopkins, says: “All antibiotics can only be bought through a vet which makes vets the gate keepers for antibiotics in animals; no other profession can prescribe for animals. All purchases from our practice are recorded as part of batch traceability and for invoicing and at the point of dispensing, we ask whether it is intended for use with sheep or cattle then this data is captured and we can analyse it. We benchmark our practice and practices are benchmarked within our group to promote responsible prescribing.
“The process of recording data is automated through the WLBP platform. This is hugely beneficial for the vet profession and farming sector in Wales as it gives us the ability to measure AMU at our own practice level and benchmark against data as it becomes available. If intervention is required for any health issue on a farm, then the usage can be justified in the annual review by the vet. This clearly demonstrates responsible use of antibiotics through a combination of data and professional veterinary advice. It’s a win-win for everyone as it leads to better flock health in the short and long-term, cost savings for farmers, it prevents overuse and gives vets the confidence to prescribe appropriately and ensure there’s added value to the service we’re providing our clients.”
Jim also highlights how important it is for farmers and vets to work together on health plans to identify any opportunities or challenges. He says: “Working with Rhun we have analysed the on-farm medicine records discussing any perceived problems on the farm, which has allowed us to put in place appropriate controls and changes to minimise any disease risks.”
Jim adds: “It is important that there is an ongoing focus on the responsible use of all medicines. It may only seem like small changes are being made on each farm, but together across every farm this all adds up can make a real difference.”
Alison Harvey, Agriculture Manager for Lamb, from Dunbia adds: “It is really important to record antibiotic use on farm primarily because the industry needs factual data in order to defend and be proud of its high health and welfare standards. It also helps drive business efficiencies.
“Monitoring and reducing use where possible, is not about stopping use of antibiotics completely – it is about ensuring good animal health and welfare – and responsible use in accordance with this.
“Any new systems and technology can feel daunting at first, but there are a number of industry developed tools now such as the WLBP app and Medicine Hub which provide a safe way to share anonymised data without duplicating any paperwork.”
When asked about the sheep sector being a low user of antibiotics, Alison says: “From a wider sheep industry perspective, there is a general view that usage of antibiotics is low, but the evidence is needed to back up those claims by collating data. We often hear it said that sheep farmers don’t use much antibiotics, especially compared to other sectors, but we need the hard evidence to prove that. As an industry we need to work together to provide these facts, then we can understand where we are and ensure we are continually assessing, making changes where necessary and proving our responsible use credentials.”
Iestyn Jones, General Manager of Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers Ltd commented. “Antimicrobial resistance is a huge global concern for mankind. Unfortunately, the finger has often been pointed towards the agricultural industry as being high users of antibiotics by those who want to discourage meat consumption. Great strides have been made across the sectors to demonstrate reductions and responsible use over the last few years, but when it comes to the sheep and beef sectors, we are still hampered by a lack of data to back our claims of being low users.
“WLBP want to play their role in being able to present a positive image of Welsh farming – with this in mind we have invested in technology which allows farmers to have their antibiotic usage measured in a method that has been agreed by the industry. Working in conjunction with their vet, the system will generate reports specific for the farm and provide insight for the farmer with no additional record keeping for the farmer.”
Medicine Hub has been developed and is managed by AHDB on behalf of the industry: Medicine Hub