28-11-2013 15:23 PM | News, Shows and Events

Prince of Wales meets farmers reducing antibiotic use in dairy herds

The Prince of Wales has met with a group of farmers involved in the Duchy Originals Future Farming programme, led by the Soil Association. The event, which took place at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester was a chance for The Prince to hear about new approaches being trialled by farmers to dramatically reduce antibiotic use in dairy herds while maintaining herd welfare.

The farmers, including Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning, are involved in one of the programme’s ‘field labs’, which bring farmers together to research and tackle a practical challenge.

The farmers involved in the field lab group have been trying new ways to improve the health of dairy cows with the aim of cutting down on antibiotic use, with benefits for animal welfare and farm profitability as well as contributing to efforts to preserve antibiotics for life or death situations. The Prince heard how the group came up with practical ideas to tackle the problem including trialling uddermint, a herbal liniment cream which increases blood flow to the udder thereby encouraging white blood cells to fight infection.

Speaking about the project, Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association said; “It has been fantastic to host a field lab on my farm, bringing together other farmers to share experiences. The farmers involved have said one of the highlights from the project has been meeting up and sharing ideas about how best to manage their herds for health and welfare. The use of farm records gives the discussions a firm foundation, and we are all monitoring the results of what we try more accurately now. This is work in progress – and very much action research rather than formal scientific trials – but the results so far are really encouraging.”

At field lab meetings the group share their herd data (including somatic cell counts, number of cases of mastitis, number of cows receiving antibiotic treatment and use of uddermint), discuss points which arise from this and learn about the management techniques on the host farm. The most recent findings from the data of three herds showed that the average number of antibiotic treatments had halved since the beginning of the field lab process.

This is an important result as the growing antibiotic resistance crisis continues to raise concerns for human health. Indeed, a recent call from over 26 leading scientists and doctors on Antibiotics Awareness Day (18 November) called for these vital medicines to be used responsibly in farming and human medicine.

The Duchy Originals Future Farming programme is funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation and helps farmers work with each other and with researchers to produce healthier food in ways that are better for the environment and farm animals. Over 1,800 farmers have been involved since the Soil Association launched the programme in 2012. Field labs bring a small group of likeminded farmers together to solve a problem, adapting an approach pioneered in developing countries that supports practical DIY research by farmers.


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