Sheep sector case study: How the WLBP’s AMU calculator is having a positive impact on reductions in antibiotic use

As part of RUMA’s focus on the Sheep Sector and its work on good antibiotic stewardship, RUMA is delighted to feature a case study of a Gwynedd sheep farm that has been using a bespoke Antimicrobial Usage (AMU) calculator created by Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers Ltd (WLBP) to collect data and drive reductions in antibiotic use.

Members of WLBP’s Farm Assured Welsh Livestock Scheme (FAWL) need to undertake annual livestock and welfare reviews with their vets. Part of the review includes analyses of medicine data with vets, who offer advice on reducing the need to use antibiotics. A partner in Arwain DGC, WLBP is helping to improve data collection and analysis by using their bespoke Antimicrobial Usage (AMU) calculator. The AMU calculator supports farmers and vets to easily collect antibiotic data to improve productivity and welfare and reduce the use of antibiotics on sheep, beef and dairy farms in Wales.

Case study:

Gwynedd farmer Alun Wyn Evans has been working with his vet to record and reduce antibiotic use on his farm in Tywyn, where he runs an early lambing Dorset and Suffolk x flock alongside a suckler herd.

After completing the farm’s animal health and welfare review, Mr Evans has focused on hygiene at lambing and ensuring the individual pens are cleaned and disinfected between each ewe, and that the quality of the colostrum is as good as possible. Also, body condition scoring of the ewes is done regularly and ensures that the optimum body condition of between 3 – 3.5 is achieved at lambing.

As a result of these changes, Mr Evans had the confidence to stop using an oral antibiotic treatment as a preventative measure in controlling watery mouth in newborn lambs.

Mr Evans said, “When I completed my annual health and welfare review with my vet, she was able to provide me with a figure for the use of antibiotics on my farm when using the WLBP AMU calculator. This was very interesting and allowed me to understand and compare my antibiotic usage against the industry target for sheep and cattle.

“The process was seamless and did not involve me having to do any additional work – just discussing and reviewing the past year with my vet, which is always a benefit to plan forward on how to keep disease issues out of our farm and reduce the need to use antibiotics as much as we can on the farm at the same time.”

Mr Evans’ Vet, Claire Jones, from Dolgellau Vets, has been using the AMU calculator while working with clients to reduce antibiotic use on their farms. She said: “Farmers need to be aware of the antibiotics they are using and why, and more importantly, is there a way to avoid the need to use antibiotics through different management or by vaccine to prevent whatever health issue has occurred.”

Claire says it is important that clients understand what they are using and how long for, making sure that any animal that needs antibiotic treatment is getting the correct dose.

She adds: “We are extremely pleased that we are able to take advantage of WLBP’s AMU calculator.  Having the ability to measure the use of antibiotics on our clients’ farms in a standardised way, which has been agreed by the industry, puts us in an unrivalled position in being able to demonstrate responsible use and improving the health and welfare of our farm clients. Not only will this benefit us and our farm clients, but also the Welsh farming industry by being able to evidence responsible use of antibiotics in a sustainable way.”

WLBP General Manager, Iestyn Tudur-Jones, said: “We believe that farmers are using antibiotics responsibly, but we need the evidence to prove it. This process, based on vets and farmers working together, starts to take us far down that road. Being proactive in collecting this data demonstrates to government and consumers that livestock produced on farms in Wales are done so to the highest standards.”

When calculating AMU, a range of information is gathered, including the type of antibiotic, the amount bought and administered, along with the animal’s species, age, and sex. The AMU calculator collects the data from the veterinary practice, BCMS and WLBP records and presents them in a clear, standardised format.

Over time, it’s planned that the AMU data of up to 7,000 WLBP members will be used to produce accurate, and individual, usage reports. Also, collectively, the data can be used to identify key diseases that could be treated earlier and ideally without antibiotics.

Chris Lloyd, RUMA Secretary General, says: “The WLPB AMU calculator is a brilliant example of one of the many industry initiatives helping farmers capture and standardise their data and get some value from it. Hearing Mr Evans’ story further reinforces the positive impact that such tools are having and the ease of the process – it can be done as part of the annual health and welfare review, with no additional record keeping needed and enhances discussions between the vet and farmer.  Moving forward it is about exploring ways to use such initiatives to help build up the national picture of antibiotic use for the sheep industry.”