Case studies

Read antibiotic use case studies, showing how farmers and vets have implemented changes on-farm that have reduced, refined or replaced use of their antibiotics.

A persistent problem with watery mouth meant antibiotics were used as a preventative medicine in the past at David Raine’s Old Parks Farm near Penrith in Cumbria. Now, though, their use has all but been eliminated says Mr Raine, who runs 1,000 Swaledale, Mule and Bluefaced Leicester ewes as well as upland beef. “The key to this has been the quantity and quality of colostrum provided within one hour of the lamb’s birth,” he says. “To make sure there is sufficient quantity, we provide the ewe with good nutrition – plenty of energy, protein and trace elements from a home-produced ration including fodder beet,” he explains. Careful observation and diligence at lambing, monitoring ewe health and udder checks along with the use of colostrum substitutes where required, ensures that every lamb receives the colostrum it needs. All lambs are treated with iodine at birth. “If they stay housed, because of bad weather, they are navel dipped again. We have found this second dip has cut joint ill markedly. “We have virtually eliminated watery mouth and joint ill, cutting our antibiotic use to just about nil in the process,” Mr Raine adds. Even though the upland farm faces harsh weather, reducing the time that the flock is housed is key. “We are mainly outdoor lambing now with Swaledales making up three-quarters of the flock. They need minimum interference which cuts the need for any antibiotics at all.” Housing for the remainder of the flock is also minimised. “Early lambing mule ewes are brought close to the housing as lambing nears so we can keep an eye on them. Nutrition is raised to boost the ewe’s natural immunity to disease and to yield colostrum. “But they don’t come indoors until the last minute to cut the build-up of bacteria,” says Mr Raine. The farm has also introduced a week’s break in the lambing period to break the cycle of disease. The shed is cleaned out completely during this time before rebedding with plenty of straw. Beyond the lambing period, all replacement stock is vaccinated to give cover against clostridial disease and enzootic abortion of ewes (EAE). “Using a vaccine for enzootic abortion and stopping the use of preventative antibiotic treatment is a practical, and sensible thing we could all do,” says Mr Raine.
A focus on ewe health and nutrition has boosted colostrum production and enabled one Northern Ireland sheep producer to make a dramatic cut in antibiotic treatment for watery mouth in newborn lambs. Isaac Crilly from Castlederg, County Tyrone, farms just 28ha (70 acres) but achieves a lambs reared figure of almost 200% from his 400 Belclare cross New Zealand Suffolk ewes. “In the past we gave each lamb a dose (of oral antibiotic) because we thought it was the right thing to do,” says Mr Crilly. “Last year we had a bottle to hand just in case we needed it, but I’m pleased that we didn’t because we got everything else right – the ewes, their feed, colostrum and good hygiene in the shed. We just needed to be brave enough not to dose.” In stark contrast this year, just six lambs needed treatment. Mr Crilly believes that a visibly-improved colostrum quality is a major reason for the reduction in the prevalence of the disease. However, he says no single management change has brought about the change which he instead puts down to a combination of gradual improvements including better ewe nutrition, genetics and general health. Blood testing results showed that the flock was deficient in both selenium and iodine which was addressed initially using oral mineral doses combined with an overall close look at ewe nutrition. A further management tweak was made this year. “Before tupping we switched to boluses to supply the minerals and this seems to have helped boost selenium and iodine levels again,” he says. Feeding is another area which has been increasingly, tightly controlled over the years. Ewes are housed in the third week of December, well ahead of lambing in March to allow more control over feed intake and condition scores. Silage making was ditched on the farm because of the time, cost and potential variability in quality. Instead, at housing, ewes are fed a diet of soya hull - which provides about 10.5-11% protein - and straw for roughage. The protein content of the diet is gradually increased from scanning in January until lambing. After the ewes are scanned soyabean is introduced to the hull and straw at a rate of 135kg per tonne of the mix, along with sheep minerals. The soyabean has a high protein rate of about 19% and the inclusion rate rises to 190kg/tonne of feed in the weeks immediately prior to lambing. Careful attention is paid at feeding time to allow every ewe to have good access to troughs. “The Belclare ewe is quite large at 75-80kg but we make sure every ewe has enough space to get the food without having to fight for it,” Mr Crilly says. All ewes arrive at lambing at a condition score of 3.5-4, he says. That condition score is rigorously applied right across the flock of 400 with the lowest 3.5 and the highest 4. “The ewe is extremely fit at lambing and the high protein content of the diet means she has an abundance of colostrum.” Mr Crilly says the process has been made easier because the Belclare/NZ Suffolk cross produces lambs with a high vigour. “I’m sure the get-up-and-go of the breed helps to get the colostrum in within the first few minutes and hours after birth.” The ewe and her lamb are moved to individual pens to ensure the colostrum is readily available in the crucial first six hours. The pens also have a mesh floor to make them easier to clean and so reduce the chance of disease build-up. Ewes and lambs are turned out as quickly as possible post-lambing and the pens are washed and disinfected thoroughly.
Peter Baber farms at Weir Park Farm, near Christow in Devon, running 1100 ewes and ewe lambs comprising a combination of Exlana, Suffolk, Texel and SufTex breeds. Although he has never used antibiotics routinely, he says he is using less and less because of refining his management strategy to prevent disease. Mr Baber uses a whole-flock management approach which involves constant revision and improvement of all aspects from genetics to nutrition and simple husbandry measures. Exlanas make up two thirds of the flock and are lambed outdoors. The remaining Suffolk and Texel ewes are housed at lambing. Indoors, hygiene, careful nutrition to ensure colostrum production and checking all lambs have sucked has proved the key to cutting watery mouth and reducing antibiotics. The shed is kept clean using a lot of straw. A rule of thumb – or perhaps, rule of knee – is that Mr Baber keeps the pens clean and dry enough to kneel down without having to wear waterproof leggings. “If my knees are dry, I know the lambs are being kept clean,” he says. Ewe nutrition is managed to ensure there is sufficient colostrum. At lambing a rigorously applied scoring system is used to provide management information as each lamb is born. Scoring system - Lamb vigour - Ease of lambing - Ewe colostrum production - Lamb size Any poor scores mean the ewe is culled to improve flock genetics. Mr Baber has also reduced antibiotic use for lameness. He targeted footrot 15 years ago using the five-point plan. The 'secret' is to reduce the footrot challenge by removing the persistent offenders and treating the ‘one-off’ cases rapidly.  
Simplifying and speeding up the job of thawing colostrum has resulted in improved consistency, reduced calf mortality and improved immunity on one Powys dairy farm.

Bitesize Videos

Read antibiotic use case studies, showing how farmers and vets have implemented changes on-farm that have reduced, refined or replaced use of their antibiotics.

Colostrum is vital to the newborn calf as it contains antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins or IgG) to provide immunity and it is also rich in essential nutrients to provide energy for growth.


The 3Qs of Colostrum Management – AHDB

29 Jan 2018

Contamination during collection, transfer or feeding puts the calf at risk by introducing harmful bacteria when the calf has no active immunity to fight infection. Protect against this risk with the help of this video.

Colostrum Hygiene – AHDB

29 Jan 2018

Testing colostrum is an important task that should be completed at every collection. The test results help you to make an informed decision as to whether the colostrum is good enough to be fed or stored, or needs to be discarded

Testing Colostrum Quality – AHDB

29 Jan 2018

Kate Johnson's presentation at the 2013 calf health and welfare workshop, including effective colostrum management.

Calf Health & Disease – AHDB

29 Jan 2018

AHDB (Dairy and Beef & Lamb) hosted a webinar on 23 Sept 2015 with Kat Bazeley, Veterinary Surgeon with Synergy Farm Health looking at the importance of the early hours of a calf's life.

The early hours: Looking at the new born calf – AHDB

29 Jan 2018

Welsh sheep farmer Arwyn Jones and his vet Kate Hovers describe how a Farming Connect project has helped identify ways to reduce antibiotic use on-farm through better colostrum management.

Better colostrum leads to less antibiotics at lambing

29 Jan 2018

Proper care of newborn calves is critical for their long term health and survival. Ideally the calf should suckle sufficient quantities of colostrum. If a calf is unable to suckle a bottle, or consume the full amount of colostrum, then a stomach tube should be used.

Colostrum feeding

29 Jan 2018

Webinar discussing how to use antibiotics responsibly at lambing including good colostrum management, with specialist sheep vet Dr Fiona Lovatt.

Responsible use of antibiotics at lambing time – AHDB

31 Jan 2018

The 14 minute film covers areas such as: Colostrum management;  Nutritional scours; Antibiotics in milk; BVD - can we can live with this, or does it need to be top priority?

Calf health & disease – Kate Johnson RVC/AHDB

22 Aug 2018

This film brings together the key messages from the AHDB Calf to Calving programme, using interviews from host farmers and meeting attendees. It focuses on areas including colostrum testing, regular weighing, planning, vaccination, protocols and attention to detail. The video also features top tips for calf rearing.

Calf to Calving inc vaccination and colostrum – AHDB

08 Sep 2018

Cryptosporidium in young calves can impact the animal not just during the time it is infected but throughout its growing period. Understanding the routes of infection and the role that management has to play in minimising risks are covered in this webinar with Dr Beth Wells of Moredun Research Institute.

Cryptosporidiosis in calves – AHDB

06 Oct 2018

This video explains how people have been collecting colostrum from different animals but particularly sheep for feeding to newborn lambs.

Collecting colostrum from ewes – Udderly EZ milker video

30 Jan 2019

Some handy hints and tips on storing and thawing colostrum from Pyon

Storing and thawing colostrum – Pyon products

01 Feb 2019

Join AHDB Beef & Lamb and Dr Alexander Corbishley, a senior lecturer in farm animal health at the University of Edinburgh, for a webinar looking at the prevalence of and risk factors for poor colostrum antibody absorption in suckled calves. Research from the University of Edinburgh has shown that one in three British suckler calves would benefit from improving the amount of antibodies absorbed from colostrum. Calves rely on the transfer of antibodies from the cow via her colostrum within the first few hours of life to provide protection from disease. When insufficient antibodies are absorbed, calves are at serious risk of disease during the pre-weaning period and are more likely to need antibiotic treatment. The webinar will cover: • What is the difference between partial and complete failure of passive transfer? • Major risk factors for failure of passive transfer in calves • Nutrition in late pregnancy – energy balance and mineral status • Managing risk on your farm

Do your suckler calves absorb enough antibodies from colostrum?

20 Feb 2020