Vet college research aims to cut antibiotic use

A researcher at the Atlantic Veterinary College wants to develop ways to reduce antibiotic use in dairy cattle.

A researcher at the Atlantic Veterinary College inCharlottetown wants to develop ways to reduce antibiotic use in dairy cattle by 50 to 80 per cent.

Dr. Greg Keefe is focusing on mastitis, an udder infection that affects about 20 per cent of dairy cows. The infection is treated with antibiotics. While the cows are being treated, any milk they produce is thrown away to keep the antibiotics out of the food chain.

"Only about half of those, or perhaps even less, really require the use of antibiotics to treat that," Keefe said Thursday.

The trick, said Keefe, is identifying which cows need treatment and which don't. He is reviewing tests to determine which ones can quickly and accuratelydiagnose which cows need treatment.

"We can target the antibiotic use to the cows that truly need it and reduce use for clinical mastitis by 50 per cent or even more."

The testing is also relevant for cows in what is known as the dry period, the two months before calving that they are not producing milk. Animals are routinely given antibiotics at this time to ward off infections. Keefe believes with proper testing, antibiotic use at this stage could be reduced by up to 80 per cent.

Keefe is working with dairy farmer Kevin Jewell, who likes the idea of reducing the medication required for his herd.

"That will give us the heads-up on all treatment of pathogens or diseases that will affect dairy herds and affect the quality of milk, and give us a mechanism to evaluate the disease, treat it very effectively with the least amount of antibiotics or other products," said Jewell.

Keefe plans to develop tests that can be administered by the farmer. He also foresees a time when dairy farms will have their own mini-labs in the barn, where farmers will test their own herds for disease.