Farmers testing new tool in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Why farmer led research into reducing antibiotics is important

Antibiotics have revolutionised modern medicine and saved millions of lives. But the systematic overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining their ability to cure life-threatening infections in people, by creating bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. Experts predict that 10 million people a year could die from antibiotic resistant infections by 2050.

It is therefore essential that action is taken across the board to dramatically reduce antibiotic use. Mastitis is one of the biggest reasons for antibiotic usage in dairy farming. While progress has been made in the industry to reduce the preventive use of dry cow antibiotics, little has been achieved in reducing the use for lactating cow treatment of clinical mastitis.

Mastdecide, a new on-farm tool that could significantly reduce antibiotics use

New research coming out of the lab needs testing on real farms

The most important way of reducing antibiotic use in mastitis treatment is for farmers to reduce the cases of mastitis. However, more selective treatment when they do have cases is also valuable. Research looking at spontaneous cure rates of different types of mastitis, shows that most mild or moderate gram negative infections cure spontaneously. So there is increasing interest by farmers in identifying those cases early via on farm test systems and then not giving antibiotics to these cases. This in turn reduces antibiotic use and saves the cost of the drug and wasted milk.

Farmers, vets and researchers are coming together to put this to the test. A new field lab to understand whether a new on farm test system called MastDecide, which has previously had very little direct farmer testing, can be practically used by farmers as a tool to significantly reduce antibiotic usage without affecting animal welfare and mastitis outcome parameters. While research has been done into this new system under controlled conditions there is no work published on the suitability of such a system in real farm conditions. So farmer led research is really important.

How the trial works

The trial works by famers randomly assigning new mild or moderate mastitis case cows to a “culture” group or “treatment” group. The “treatment” cows will be treated with antibiotics as soon as the mastitis is detected. The “culture” cows will have a milk sample tested and then be treated according to the results (the culture test requires 12 – 14 hours to give a result). If gram negative or no growth then they will be allowed to cure spontaneously, if gram positive then they will be treated with antibiotics.

More herds needed

The meetings that have been held so far to recruit farms have identified two groups of farmers. There are those who already have very low antibiotic use and want to reduce even further by testing cases and being even more confident about the need to treat. Most of these farms currently have a protocol to delay antibiotic treatment for mild or moderate cases and manage cows welfare and recovery with udder mint and pain relief and monitor response. Although it is valuable for these farmers to be part of the field lab to learn about the approach they are not suited for the trial. The second group of farms, that are best suited for the trial are those with higher use of antibiotics, generally treating every mastitis case and looking to reduce use by being more selective with treatment.

We are still in need of farmers falling into this second group to take part in the trial so if you are interested in testing the approach then contact Peter Plate at the Royal Veterinary College who is leading the trial.

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