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Disease Prevention

“Prevention is better than cure.”

The first step farmers can take to prevent the development of AMR is to improve the overall health status of the animals on the farm. This will not only reduce antibiotic use on farm but it will also maximise farm productivity. This can be achieved through disease prevention strategies such as good farm biosecurity measures, good farm husbandry practices and animal vaccination programmes. Under no circumstances should antibiotics be used to compensate for poor farm management practices.

Disease Prevention Strategies

There is a collective responsibility on farmers, as key stakeholders in the agri-food sector, to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, so as to preserve their efficacy for disease treatment in both humans, animals, and for society as a whole.

Healthy animals don't need treatment with expensive antibiotics, so an increased focus on disease prevention measures is a key action to reduce use of antibiotics and thus reduce the risk of AMR development. The first step to address the challenge of AMR in farming is to improve the overall health status of the animal population.

Minimising disease on your farm will reduce the farms reliance on antibiotics, prevent the build-up of AMR and improve the productivity of your animals. This can be achieved through the following disease prevention strategies:

Biosecurity

Good farm biosecurity management can help protect the health of the animals on your farm. The term biosecurity refers to practices that help prevent the introduction and spread of disease within a farm. Simple and practical biosecurity measures tailored to each farm will help reduce the risk of disease.

A number of disease threats exist outside the farm. These disease threats can be categorised into direct and indirect disease spread. Disease can be spread directly from added animals or neighbouring animals or indirectly from farm visitors, slurry, animal equipment, wildlife and vermin, biological materials and farm environment.

A number of disease threats also exist within the farm. These diseases may have been recently introduced into a herd or be an endemic disease. An endemic disease is always present within the herd but will only become apparent at certain times or under certain conditions, for example during production stress or herd expansion. Examples of endemic disease include BVD, IBR and Salmonella. Management practices that prevent the spread of infection on the farm should be used to deal with on-going disease outbreaks but should also be a part of good farming practices to prevent disease outbreaks in the first place.

More information on how to prevent disease entry and spread on farm can be found by accessing the following links:

To prevent disease entry onto farm

To prevent disease spread on farm

Farm Husbandry

Good farm husbandry practices can help protect the health of the animals on your farm, thus reducing antibiotic usage and the risk of AMR development. Good farm husbandry practices includes ensuring adequate immunity, ensuring appropriate nutrition, minimising animal stress, minimising exposure to bacteria, viruses and parasites and developing a herd health plan to protect the health of animals on your farm. Good husbandry helps to build the animal's resistance to disease.

More information on good farm management practices can be found by accessing the following link:

Good farm management practices

Vaccination

Vaccination is a means of boosting immunity to specific infectious agents – prompting the animal to produce antibodies or other defence against infection. Vaccinations not only boost the immunity of a herd but they also reduce disease and prevent or reduce the shedding of disease by infected animals. Contact your veterinary practitioner to discuss which vaccines should form part of the health plan for your herd. Each herd is unique and may be exposed to different disease risks, so it is important to develop a tailored vaccination program to address the diseases specific to your farm.

Generally, to provide a high level of protection two doses are initially required followed by regular boosters. Without the second initial vaccination or booster shot the immunity of the animal may not reach a high enough level or last long enough to provide sufficient protection.

The following measures should be taken to ensure the vaccine is as effective as possible.

  1. Vaccinate to ensure animals are protected BEFORE the greatest period of risk/challenge.
    Disease often shows recurring but predictable seasonal patterns therefore it is recommended to vaccinate before the greatest risk periods. Animals need a minimum of 2-3 weeks after the completion of the course to develop adequate immunity. If two doses are required vaccinate with the two doses.
  2. Always read the label and follow the instructions.
    The effectiveness of vaccines that are not stored properly or administered using the incorrect dose or route will be less effective.
  3. Animals need to be able to mount an immune response in order for the vaccine to be effective.
    Animals that are immunosuppressed as a result of poor nutrition or disease will not respond adequately to the vaccine.
  4. Make sure you are targeting the correct agent.
    Many agents can cause similar symptoms a diagnostic test should be carried out with a veterinary practitioner to identify the correct vaccine for the disease in question.

Detailed information on vaccinations is available at AHI Cattle Vaccination Information Leaflet or Teagasc Vaccination / Dosing Programmes for Dairy Farmers (PDF).

Glossary of terms

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