The results of an on-going study into the effects of withholding antibiotics at drying-off on cows’ udder health has proved so successful dairy farmers are beginning to adopt the practice themselves.
Reducing antibiotic use successful
The research into selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) shows that by identifying low-risk cows, those who are less likely to develop mastitis, and withholding the usual dose of antibiotics, farmers can reduce their use of antibiotics. This not only helps ease the ever-increasing worry about how long these life-saving drugs will continue to be effective it will also save the farmer money too.
The study measured the impact of SDCT at 17 different farms and analysed over 3000 cows, of which 57% were identified as low-risk and had SDCT and 43% were found to be high risk and given conventional DCT. The decision whether a cow was high or low risk involved examining their history of developing mastitis. All cows were given an internal teat sealant at drying-off. Results so far show that SDCT was successful in that the control group didn’t have negative effects on udder health or performance during the next lactation.
SDCT success based in a number of factors
However, the success rate of SDCT is subject to a number of different factors, including the health of the overall herd, how high risk and low risk cows are identified and the hygiene practice at drying off. So, if a farmer is thinking about adopting SDCT at their dairy farm, its highly recommended that they speak to a vet first. Dairy specialist Lorna MacPherson from SAC Consulting said: ‘Initially farmers were concerned about stopping the routine treatment of cows with antibiotics at drying off.
‘However, as the project progressed, their confidence grew, and many were surprised that the incidence of mastitis in cows on SDCT (teat sealant alone) was less than those receiving antibiotics and there was no increase in cows calving in with a high cell count.’
The obvious danger of withholding antibiotics at drying off is that there is a higher risk of increasing incidents of mastitis during the next lactation, thereby offsetting the reduction in antibiotic treatment that would have been saved at drying-off. Ms MacPherson recognises this risk and in response said: ‘it’s important for farmers to feel confident that by cutting out treatments they are not risking greater need for antibiotics later down the line. This was the main objective of this project.’
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