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By Dr Alex Crosbie

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the World Buiatrics Conference in Sapporo, Japan. I presented the findings of my research into the uses of health monitoring collars in pasture-based herds—performed at The Vet Group in 2016—to a global audience of vets and researchers. This exciting work is one of the first to demonstrate that collar devices have applications for monitoring fresh cow health on pasture-based dairies.

Earthquakes and typhoons aside, the conference brought together 1000 cattle vets from all over the world. Presentations ranged from new ways to perform an LDA surgery to investigating if complications from castrating calves in Slovenia was influenced by the phases of the moon (for those of you wondering, it wasn’t!).

Antibiotic resistance was the focus of many presentations from many countries. New research from northern China indicated some alarming trends in the development of strains of Salmonella and E. coli that are resistant to multiple antibiotics, some of which are vital to human health. We can assume that this reflects the relatively unrestricted use of antibiotics in dairy cattle in the country.

Researchers from two dairy-focused clinics based at universities in England reported on how they had adopted strategies to minimise the risk of antibiotic resistance by moving away from the use of last-line drugs like Excenel in favour of older and cheaper antibiotics.

This was a challenging but successful process for the clinics and led to reductions in the use of last-line drugs. Farmers involved were satisfied that older and cheaper drugs remained effective for most of their needs. This is a strategy that may have some benefits in dealing with the drug resistance challenges that we see in our day to day work in south-west Victoria.

Leading researchers from the US gave some of the keynote presentations, with milk quality and mastitis management getting considerable attention. Speakers from the universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota reported on how rapid milk cultures had changed the way mastitis was managed for their farmers.

Dairies in these two major milk producing regions in the US rapidly grow bacteria from milk samples and choose what cases to treat and even select which cows didn’t need immediate treatment. The result was reduced treatment costs through less antibiotic use and less milk kept out of the vat. The studies stressed the importance of knowing what bug is causing mastitis for each farm, so that appropriate strategies could be implemented to manage it and maintain milk quality.

Dairy research is moving at a fast pace, and the hundreds of presentations from Sapporo can’t be covered here. It is, however, a good opportunity to reflect that vets and farmers all over the world are facing increasing pressure on how antibiotics are used in food-producing animals. The good news is that this research indicates that we can all change what we do and save antibiotics and money at the same time.