By Debbie James

A Welsh upland sheep farm which lost dozens of lambs to an antibiotic-resistant bacteria says a natural approach to treatment has helped it overcome disease.

The Evans family had a policy of giving newborn lambs an antibiotic to prevent E.coli scours but, in 2016, this approach ceased to work when the virus became resistant and the business lost over 100 lambs.

“Every single lamb scoured within 24 hours of being born and if we didn’t treat them within 45 minutes they would die,’’ recalls Dafydd, who farms with his parents, Edmund and Llinos, at Ty Mawr, Llanrhaeadr, Denbigh.

No antibiotic preventative worked. “We had the same situation in 2017, although the E.coli came later. We lost 30 lambs that year,’’ Dafydd adds.

Despite investing £250,000 in a new lambing shed, the health challenges had become so severe that the family had resigned itself to switching to an outdoor lambing system if their business was to survive.

Edmund then came across at article detailing the experiences of a sheep farmer who had dealt with a similar resistance issue and that proved to be a turning point. That farmer had used a natural enzyme supplement, Panatec Protect Lamb.

This non-antibiotic supplement which comes in tablet form is based on technology that harnesses the reaction of enzymes and anti-oxidants. Manufacturer Mayo Healthcare says there is no residue therefore no risk of resistance.

During the 2018 lambing period, every newborn lamb at Ty Mawr was given this supplement at birth; there was not a single case of scours among those animals.

“It worked every time, we had a 100 per cent success rate,’’ says Dafydd. “We know that the E.coli was still there because we missed giving it to a few lambs and they scoured and died, it just shows how effective it is.’’

The weather was the biggest challenge in 2018 and, had the lambs not had the benefit of the supplement, Dafydd believed casualties would have been high.

“At one point, when the snow was at its worst, we had 900 lambs in the shed. If we’d had scours to deal with too it would have been a disaster. Without doubt we would have lost hundreds of lambs.

“This supplement has given us the ability to be able to continue with our system, it has saved us thousands of pounds as well as removing the stress and worry. Something like E.coli can really knacker your business.’’

Another change they have made is to bed the pens with pine shavings because of its antibacterial properties.

The family runs a flock of mostly three-quarter bred Texel ewes on 280 acres, with 150 older ewes lambing in January, 700 ewes at the end of February and 450 at the beginning of April; there is also a flock of 100 purebred Texels and ram lambs from these are sold off the farm.

Ewes are housed a month before lambing and receive supplementary 18 per cent protein feed – the singles 0.3kg/day, twins 0.69kg and the triplets 0.9kg.

Ewes and their lambs are in individual pens for 10-24 hours and transferred to larger, mixed group pens for two days before being turned out to grass.

All lambs are sold liveweight at either Ruthin or St Asaph markets.

With the disease issue now under control, the family is feeling more confident about the future.

“I don’t know why the industry has taken so long to get to grips with the resistance issue, the industry is so focussed on antibiotics but as our experience has demonstrated, there are other ways,’’ says Dafydd.

Mayo Healthcare developed the technology behind the product in conjunction with the National University of Ireland with support from an EU Horizon 2020 grant.

Director Killian O'Briain predicts that the era of antibiotic usage as a prophylactic preventative is coming to an end.

“Routine use of antibiotics to prevent disease is to a large degree a root cause of the emergence of antibiotic resistant micro organisms,’’ he says.

“The World Health Organisation recently issued a statement calling on industry to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.’’