“The working relationship between farmer and vet is vital”

15-12-2016 | |
Current priority issues for BVA include the global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the issue of welfare at slaughter. Photo: BVA
Current priority issues for BVA include the global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the issue of welfare at slaughter. Photo: BVA

Dairy Global talked to John Fishwick from the British Veterinary Association about the current animal health situation in the UK and the changing role of cattle veterinarians.

John Fishwick knows about cows, after being the head veterinarian to the world’s largest fully integrated dairy company Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, farming more than 25,000 high producing dairy cows in a desert environment. After this experience, he moved back to the UK to become a senior lecturer and head of the Department of Production and Population Health at the Royal Veterinary College and was appointed junior vice president at the British Veterinary Association (BVA) at the BVA’s annual Members’ Day in Bristol, on Thursday 22 September 2016.

Dairy Global: What is your mission at the British Veterinary Association (BVA)? Are there any goals you want to achieve at BVA? (strategic plan)

John Fishwick: “It is a tremendous honour to take on the role of junior vice president of the British Veterinary Association. The veterinary profession represents an amazing group of dedicated individuals who play a vital role in all aspects of animal health and welfare and protecting the safety of the food chain, which fits very well with our One Health agenda. I am very much looking forward to the challenges ahead and to working with colleagues throughout the profession to build on the work done by the current and former BVA Officer teams. The main functions of the BVA is to represent the veterinary profession and support its members. This includes providing expert and informed input and lobbying to policy makers and other organisations on all matters relating to animal health and welfare. Current priority issues include the global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the issue of welfare at slaughter. We are also there, of course, to support our members and provide services for them. Helping to ensure the well-being of the profession is a matter of major importance to us.”

What is BVA doing to raise awareness and to reduce antibiotics use in UK cattle?

“BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey shows that over 90% of vets are concerned about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Across all livestock and companion animal sectors, BVA works alongside its specialist divisions and the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) to promote awareness of AMR. We provide guidance on the responsible use of antibiotics for both vets and farmers and continue to support the European Antibiotic Awareness Day (18 November). For this we ask all vets, vet nurses, farmers and pet owners to pledge to become an antibiotic guardian. The UK cattle sector is actively working to implement an antibiotic recording and monitoring system and is committed to strategies that seek to use antimicrobials only when necessary, including looking at selective dry cow therapy.”

Is BVA working with other European veterinary associations to target some problems together? Can you give an example?

“BVA continues to maintain an outward looking and inclusive perspective through our relationships with international partners, including the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), the Commonwealth Veterinary Association (CVA) and the World Veterinary Association (WVA). This ensures the UK veterinary profession continues to influence and engage on cross border issues such as disease surveillance, veterinary medicines and antimicrobial resistance. Our international links and perspective have never been more important as we face the changes that will be associated with the UK’s potential exit from the EU.”

The UK cattle sector is actively working to implement an antibiotic recording and monitoring system and is committed to strategies that seek to use antimicrobials only when necessary. Photo: Michel Zoeter

The UK cattle sector is actively working to implement an antibiotic recording and monitoring system and is committed to strategies that seek to use antimicrobials only when necessary. Photo: Michel Zoeter

Is cattle lameness a big issue in the UK and how are veterinarians dealing with this issue?

“Yes, it is – although the good news is that there has been a massive drive within the livestock sector to improve things and some improvements are now starting to be seen. BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey shows that lameness is consistently the number one animal welfare concern for our production animal vets and this echoes the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which has stated that cattle lameness is one of the most significant welfare and productivity issues in dairy farming.”

What can be improved to tackle this problem?

“The key here is, of course, prevention. There has been a big push over recent years to measure and benchmark the level of lameness on individual farms and this gives an important overview and emphasis on whether or not lameness is a problem on any given farm. Ensuring risk factors are investigated and improved and that proper evidence-based procedures are put in place for activities such as foot trimming and foot bathing is essential. Training of stockmen is a key to this, improving their techniques, and their understanding and awareness of the issues. This year’s Veterinary Record Impact Award was won by Simon Archer, Reuben Newsome and colleagues from University of Nottingham and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) for a paper on increasing the recommended claw length for foot trimming in dairy cows. For the last 30 years the minimum recommended claw length for trimming has been 75 mm. However, there is considerable variation in claw length, and from a detailed study of 219 hind claws from 68 cows in a single herd, the authors found that a minimum claw length of 90 mm would be more appropriate. Over trimming causes pain to the animal as well as making it susceptible to claw horn lesions, and the authors estimate that if the traditional recommendation had been followed for the cows in this study, this would have resulted in 55% of them being over trimmed. They propose that the minimum recommended claw length for any adult Holstein-Friesian dairy cow should be increased to at least 90 mm. This is a great example where a proper evidence base can help to improve routine techniques and ultimately have a beneficial effect on animal welfare.”

What is the current situation regarding TB in UK cattle? And the badger cull, is that still a method to keep the disease under control?

“Bovine TB (bTB) continues to be a major challenge in the UK. Defra currently has a 25-year strategy in place to eradicate the disease. At the end of August this year, new measures to tackle bTB in England were announced by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, George Eustice MP. Consulting with Defra and providing expert opinion, together with views from our members about how proposals are likely to affect things on ground, is an important aspect of our work. BVA recognises the need to control the wildlife reservoir of disease as part of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate bTB. This means that control measures in cattle must be accompanied by simultaneous and co-ordinated control measures in badgers and susceptible farmed species. For these reasons, BVA supports the wider roll-out of culling to carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the high incidence of bTB in cattle, through the use of cage trapping and shooting only; we do not support the continued use of controlled shooting as part of the badger control policy. We welcome the announced consultations on further measures to help tackle bTB, and we will be consulting our members to ensure an evidence-based veterinary voice continues to be fed into the UK governments’ strategy to control and eradicate this disease.”

How has the role of large animal vets changed over the years?

“Farm animal vets have a crucial role in helping to maintain a secure and safe food supply. This is combined with the need to ensure that livestock are raised in suitable conditions and can enjoy a decent quality of life, and that the impact on the environment is minimised. Vets are at the centre of ensuring all these demands are met. They do this largely through advising on management and working to prevent and treat disease. By the same token they are always available 24 hours a day and every day of the year to ensure that urgent emergencies can be covered. Vets should be a central part of the team for any livestock enterprise. The emphasis has shifted markedly towards preventive medicine rather than treatment of sick animals. However, there will always be a need for urgent care of livestock that become unwell. Minimising these instances and ensuring that antimicrobials are used responsibly when their use is required, are key areas where the vet is, and must be, helping to lead the way. The working relationship between farmers and their vets is a vitally important one, both to the success of the business and the welfare of the livestock involved. Good outcomes can only be achieved when both work together as a team and there are many great examples of this within the UK.”

Dairy farmers say antibiotics could be reduced by a third

90% of dairy farmers participating in a recent survey indicated that the farming industry must take a proactive lead in the battle against antibiotic resistance. Those questioned in the RABDF (Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers) survey also think that over the next five years they could cut their own antibiotic use by almost a third in dry cow therapy and a fifth in clinical mastitis. 300 farmers, farm managers and farm workers participated in the survey in collaboration with the University of Bristol. It was carried out in the wake of the Government-commissioned O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) published earlier this year. Dr Kristen Reyher from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences expressed that, in analysing the results, her team was very encouraged that dairy farmers thought it possible to achieve a median reduction of 30% in antibiotic dry cow therapy use within the next five years. Dr Reyher, who is a senior lecturer in farm animal science, said: “As well as this, reductions of 15% in antibiotic use to treat calf diseases, most probably pneumonia and calf scour, and 20% to treat clinical mastitis in milking cows are thought possible. “Within this there is also scope to reduce the use of antibiotics considered critically important for human medicine. Reduction of critically important antimicrobials is something the University of Bristol has been working hard on, and over the past six years their farm animal practice has reduced prescribing of these critical antimicrobials by almost 90%, using none in recent years.
“There are big gains to be made and the best way forward is to encourage farmers and vets to work closely together,” she said. RABDF council member and dairy farmer, Di Wastenage, said the findings indicated that some of the motivation to reduce may come down the supply chain. She said: “Three-quarters of respondents in dairying said their milk purchaser was starting to ask about antibiotic use. Alongside this, 94% thought the sector needed to be seen to be ‘doing its bit’ to tackle the issue, and 86% agreed reductions needed to happen before they were forced to make them.” Wastenage said the survey results would be fed into current farming industry initiatives to measure and reduce use of antibiotics, such as those being run by RUMA and CHAWG.
However, she said they also highlighted some important calls-to-action the RABDF itself would take forward, using its UK-wide reach and close connections with the wider dairy industry. “Vets are also crucial in this conversation,” added Wastenage. “The survey results indicate that there is space for vets to have greater input in this area. “The survey also identified that 40% of respondents in the dairy sector were recording medicine use electronically in some form already. “It should be possible to migrate these records to a central system, something that will help CHAWG in its current investigations on how to gather data on use.” Finally, Wastenage said there were opportunities to look at the role dairy consultants could play, to incorporate modules to support the reduction of antibiotic use into RABDF training programmes and to promote the concept to BTEC and other training providers.
“It’s clear there is very good awareness of the threat. Now is the time to think big and be ambitious. “The activities suggested in the survey include selective dry cow therapy, better uptake of vaccination, use of fever tags and thermal imaging, along with improving ventilation, housing and system design, so it would be interesting to explore these in more detail. “The challenge of how to make reductions without impacting welfare remains.”
Author: Chris McCullough

Emmy Koeleman Freelance editor