By Debbie James

Sheep farmers on Anglesey have cut antibiotic use during lambing by almost 60 per cent over a two-year period.

By improving nutrition, hygiene, colostrum quality and management, a group of seven farmers reduced the number of animals treated with antibiotics without impacting on production or welfare.

In the lambing periods from 2017-19, the seven farms used an average of 59.8 per cent less antibiotics.

With veterinary and nutritional advice funded by European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Wales, the farmers demonstrated that a proactive approach can significantly reduce reliance on antibiotics at lambing.

One of the farmers, Gareth Thomas, of Tregynrig, Cemaes Bay, says one of the simplest but most effective measures he put in place was to allow sufficient feeding space for ewes –15cm per animal for ad-lib forage and 45cm for restricted concentrates.

He reduced the numbers at each trough from 50 to 40.

The ewes are fed ad-lib silage and receive concentrates twice a day, at 8am and 4pm.

Tregynrig is a family-run farm which supplies fat lambs to Woodhead Bros in April and May.

Mr Thomas runs a flock of 650 Suffolk x North Country mules ewes which he breeds to Charollais or Texel rams.

He disinfects the sheds twice when ewes are housed for lambing in January, with a two week gap between groups to reduce E.coli levels - singles are grouped separately from twins and triplets.

After lambing, the ewe and lambs are moved from big pens into small, individual pens.

Mr Thomas says the EIP project taught him that he needed to lime more around wet areas, such as troughs and feeding areas.

To aid the reduction in antibiotics, bedding in the pens housing all groups is analysed for bacteria that can cause mastitis, joint ill, scours and watery mouth.

“Bedding tests in the pre and post lambing pens are vitally important for us to know if we need to do anything to reduce E.coli,’’ says Mr Thomas.

“By testing the bedding we can action against the results by disinfecting and liming.’’

Good pre-lambing nutrition is another reason why fewer antibiotics were used; for the project, silage quality was analysed for dry matter, protein, digestibility, metabolisable energy, minerals and fermentation.

At Tregynrig, in addition to ad lib silage, ewes at fed a compound feed at 12.8MJ/kgDM, introduced at five weeks before lambing, up to a maximum of 0.9kg for triplets a week before lambing, 0.7kg for twins, and 0.3kg for singles.

Mr Thomas, who supplies fat lambs to Woodhead Bros in April and May, says the project had allowed him to lower his costs.

“I've saved at least £2-3/head from using vaccinations more accurately and from using targeted treatment rather than a blanket treatment approach,’’ he says.

All the farms involved had achieved savings too, he adds.

“We did this without compromising animal health and welfare as our ewes are in the best possible condition before starting lambing.

“We are now concentrating our spending on the places where it needs it most.’’

Protocols at lambing on the project farms

• Pre-lambing pens are cleaned out, disinfected and limed between batches

• Water troughs are cleaned out regularly

• Lame ewes are treated promptly and managed separately, to avoid spread of infection

• Castration and tailing of lambs in the first week of life is avoided to minimise stress and wounds where joint ill bacteria could enter

• Everyone involved in lambing wears rubber gloves and also when they handle sick lambs

• Stomach tubes are washed in warm soapy water and disinfected in baby bottle solution

• Lambing pens are set up in a separate area away from the main lambing pens for sick ewes or lambs and for ewes that have aborted

• Where cow colostrum is used, the quality is assessed using a refractometer and only