Antibiotics are a critically important tool for dairy farmers to ensure the health and welfare of the animals on their farm. Overall, the Australian dairy industry has a very low use of antibiotics compared to other countries. However, overuse and incorrect use can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. This is when infections caused by bacteria develop the ability to resist the effects of antibiotics. By using antibiotics sparingly and correctly (this is called ‘antimicrobial stewardship’), we can minimise the risk of antibiotic resistance and protect our international reputation.
Gippsland vet Mark Humphris and dairy farmer James Clyne share how they used data and insights to improve antibiotic use on James’ farm.
Dairy cattle veterinarians
Dairy cattle veterinarians are a very important piece of the puzzle to ensure the correct use of antibiotics on dairy farms. Dairy cattle veterinarians should ensure they are familiar with the Australian Government’s Importance Ratings and Summary of Antibacterial Uses in Human and Animal Health in Australia, available for download below.
Importance Ratings and Summary of Antibacterial Uses in Human and Animal Health in AustraliaPDF, 674.63 KB
Antibiotics important to human health
In Australia, there are two antibiotics rated of high importance for human health that are registered for use in dairy cattle.
- Ceftiofur (e.g. Excenel®, Exceed® and Accent®)
- Virginiamycin (e.g. Eskalin®)
These are essential antibiotics for the treatment or prevention of infections in humans where there are few or no treatment alternatives for infections.
These have also been termed ‘last resort’ or ‘last line’ antibiotics. These should only be used as a last resort, or in exceptional circumstances where culture and susceptibility testing has indicated that there are no effective alternatives.
If you are using either of these antibiotics on your farm it is important to make time with your dairy cattle vet to review their use.
Selective or part-herd dry cow therapy
Mastitis control, including dry cow therapy (DCT), accounts for about 66 percent of the antibiotics used on Australian dairy farms. To reduce antibiotic use, many herds are moving away from blanket or whole-herd dry cow therapy.
Selective or part-herd dry cow therapy, is where only cows with a history of an elevated Individual Cow Cell Count (ICCC) or clinical mastitis receive antibiotic dry cow therapy at dry off. For most herds, it is recommended to still use an internal teat sealant (ITS) in those cows that do not receive antibiotic dry cow therapy.
Selective or part-herd dry cow therapy is not appropriate for all herds. Farms that are well-placed to implement selective or part-herd dry cow antibiotic already have:
- A low bulk milk cell count (BMCC) year-round
- At least one herd test within 80 days of dry-off
- Good/complete clinical mastitis records
- Low calving time mastitis (less than 5% of cows with clinical mastitis in the first month after calving)
- Good dry cow and calving time management
- No history of cows getting mastitis after drying off or in the dry period
- A good working relationship with a Countdown Trained Adviser and a proactive approach to staff training on dry cow treatment
- No history of Streptococcus agalactiae (Strep ag) mastitis
It is important to remember, that whenever any intramammary tube is inserted into a teat, hygiene is critical. Watch the Countdown Dry Cow Treatment video below:
Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework
The Australian dairy industry’s commitment to improving antibiotic stewardship is outlined in the Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework.
The dairy industry commits to using antibiotics responsibly, ‘as little as possible, as much as necessary’, to protect the health and welfare of our animals.
Our specific targets include:
All dairy farmers accessing antibiotics from a registered vet
All dairy farmers using antibiotic responsibly under veterinary direction
Antibiotics of high importance to human Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in Australia are only used to treat dairy livestock in exceptional circumstances where no other alternative exists.