Resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to modern health experts say. The Health Protection Agency warns that some bugs such as E Coli and Gonorrhoea have developed resistant strains, following the unnecessary use of antibiotics to tackle mild infections.
This Sunday (November 18th) is European Antibiotics Awareness Day, which hopes to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance in humans and animals. The National Farmers Union (NFU) say antibiotics should not be used “as a substitute for good farm management”, which is something we are certainly keen to avoid on our farm.
I read many comments from people voicing their concerns about dairy cows being “pumped full of antibiotics” when reports about dairy farming appear in the media. To my knowledge such statements are untrue – at least in the UK. But it does seem that we have become increasingly dependent on antibiotics to combat disease and infection, both in humans and farm animals. Why is this?
Humans and farm livestock are similar in that the more densely populated their habitats become and the more there is migration between centres of population, the greater the risk of transmission of disease. A shift towards more intensive agriculture has created new challenges in managing disease as a result of greater stocking densities. At the same time developments in genetics and nutritional science have led to faster growth rates and higher milk yields from farm animals, which put them under greater stress, which means some animals live on a ‘knife edge’ and are more prone to disease.
If we are to maintain truly sustainable livestock farming in the UK, we must look at ways to reduce the stocking density of animals on farms and allow them to yield or grow at a lower rate than many are required to do today. We must strike a balance between our demand for more food and the damage we do in striving for it and the good news is, we already have the tools in place to achieve it. Pasture-based dairy herds producing good yields of high quality milk, enjoy the freedom to express natural behaviour and live a healthy lifestyle, which reduces the need for medicines.
There is a place for antibiotics in both human and animal health but we must explore ways in which we can reduce our dependency. Many farmers refer to grass as ‘Dr Green’ – meaning that a bit of fresh air and grass does their cattle good. It seems that our cows need far less attention during the summer months when they are outside than they do during the winter. Free Range Dairy is about trying to reduce our dependency on all sort of things we use on the farm – bought in feeds, machinery (oil), antibiotics and other quick fixes that do not really deliver us long term solutions.
One way in which you might celebrate, or at least acknowledge, European Antibiotics Awareness Day this Sunday is to get your boots on and get out there for some fresh air yourself. Enjoy a free range weekend and feel better for it – I know our cows do!