Sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals have halved since targets were introduced in 2017, making Britain the fifth lowest user in Europe. However, to continue to reduce antibiotic use still further, sound hygiene practices must be a focus for all farmers.

“The new antibiotic reduction targets facilitated by Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance – and set out in ‘Targets Task Force Report 2020’ – aim to see usage levels reduced further. If we are to continue to cut our use of antibiotics, the highest hygiene levels are needed, especially during lambing and calving,” says vet Dan Humphries from Horizon Dairy Vets.

Postnatal diseases occur on livestock units largely due to a lack of hygiene awareness. For example, a focus on hygiene during lambing is one of the simplest and most economical ways to reduce lamb losses.

“Approximately a third of losses in lowland flocks occur in the neonatal period and most are the result of diseases that can be prevented by keeping the shed or lambing area clean and disinfected,” explains BASF rural hygiene specialist Helen Ainsworth.

“Despite higher demand for disinfectants due to the coronavirus pandemic, BASF has stock of the disinfectant Sorgene Xtra for UK farmers to buy throughout 2021,” she adds.

Sorgene Xtra is a disinfectant that can be used for general hygiene, spraying or specific disease control, dependent on the concentration.

“Focussing on animal husbandry and using products that minimise risk at key times, such as lambing and calving, will help farmers reduce costs and antibiotic use,” says Mr Humphries.

“Any equipment should be kept in a solution of disinfectant when not being used. A solution of 1:250 of disinfectant is advised to store items such as water bowls, teats and milk dispensers,” he adds.

For lambing and calving the hygienic preparation of sheds and pens will reduce the likelihood of postnatal diseases. Pressure washing using detergent before spraying with a disinfectant will help to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms.

“Attention to detail, preparation, and routines will help reduce the risk of infection and reduce costly losses. This will also reduce any subsequent reliance on antibiotics which will help the whole livestock sector in the UK improve animal welfare,” concludes Mr Humphries.