This article was originally published on Pig Progress. Click here to read the original article.

Farmers all over the European Union are working hard to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal production. Although this change takes time and can be quite costly, some of the results show that a reduction of antibiotic use leads to many farming benefits.

Ireland recently received a visit from a group of experts from the European Commission to assess progress on the area of prudent antimicrobial use. As part of the presentations to the experts, there were three farmers that had drastically reduced their use of antibiotics, namely a poultry farmer, a cattle farmer and a pig farmer running a 1 600-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.

Moving forward

“We would never go back to the previous situation,” said the poultry farmer in his presentation, with the cattle and the pig farmers concurring with his statement. They all agreed on how much of an improvement they have observed in their farms by getting rid of regular use of preventive antibiotics.

Indeed, all of them also agreed that this is not something that can be done in a couple of months. In all cases the change took over two years. Another point that all agreed on is that it is not a cheap change. Some investment needs to be done, especially at the beginning of the process after seriously assessing the situation. However, it was worth the effort for all of them.

A complex problem requires complex solutions

Antibiotic reduction is a complex issue and one simple change will not be enough in most cases.

The pig farmer gave insight into some of the changes that are commonly needed to reduce the use of antibiotics in a pig farm namely, bio-security, hygiene, nutrition, education.

A healthy homogeneous litter for a good start

In recent years, most farms have increased litter size, often increasing also the number of small sick piglets. These piglets create problems during the whole production cycle.

A change in genetics may be an option. All modern genetics have good performance, but you need to find the one that matches your strategy. Calmer pigs, good mothers and more homogeneous litters can make a big difference.

Hygiene, internal biosecurity and vaccination are key

These two points are key in reducing the need for antibiotics:

  • Cleaning: Take a moment to review your cleaning and disinfection protocol. Look for new products, the right sequence and always apply at the right time to ensure the inactivation of pathogens.
  • Vaccines: You will spend as much on vaccines as you are spending on antibiotics, however it is a much better investment for your money.

Antibiotics are a human issue after all

As for many other complex issues, reducing antibiotic use involves convincing humans that there is an alternative approach with a better result.

However, improvements are not immediate. Vaccines will take a while to create herd immunity and cleaning will progressively reduce bacterial load.

If the results don’t convince you, nothing will

And after all these changes, two years later, here are some of the results:

  • No in-feed antibiotics or zinc oxide.
  • Weaning weight up from 6,6 to 8kg.
  • Daily growth up from 765g/day to more than 800g/day from weaning to sale.
  • Lower workload and farm staff more satisfied with the job.
  • Better animal health and welfare. – Edgar Garcia Manzanilla, Pig Progress