A Northern Ireland research initiative into antibiotic usage has shown "early promising results", with initial indications suggesting it has "considerable potential" to improve usage within the dairy sector in particular.

The initiative, which is entitled ‘STrategic AntiMicrobial use in Dairy, Beef and Lamb Production’ (or 'STAMP' for short), has developed software to help farmers benchmark their farm's antibiotic usage and inform their decisions around animal health.

The tool was piloted across four veterinary practices but researchers are hoping to roll it out across the whole of Northern Ireland in the New Year.

The update on the project comes during World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and at a time when increasing numbers of retailers and stakeholders in the food supply chain are requiring regular reporting on antibiotic usage.

It supports research carried out in Northern Ireland into selective dry cow management and calf management.

'Very little input'

STAMP's web-based platform captures and monitors antibiotic prescription use at farm level.

"The STAMP benchmarking application needs very little input from farmers," AgriSearch general manager and project lead Jason Rankin explained.

"But it is able to generate a whole range of data on usage - for example, the specific kinds of drugs used, how they are administered, and how that equates into units/kg."

The programme also charts changes in usage over time, showing where improvements have been made.

It's hoped the analysis will help farmers understand their antibiotic use and feed into discussions with their vet on ways to improve their herd's health and reduce spend on unnecessary drugs.

As an added bonus, this could help farmers meet the requirements of livestock assurance schemes, retailers and consumers and demonstrate that Northern Irish produce is high quality, sustainable and safe.

"It is part of a suite of activities in the STAMP project that will help farmers to improve animal health and reduce the use of antimicrobials,” Rankin added.

Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland chief executive Dr. Sam Strain explained the issue was "one of the most pressing challenges" facing human and animal health.

"Within the ruminant sector, there is an urgent need to reduce the disease drivers for their use and, when antimicrobials are needed, to use them better," he said.

The STAMP online tool provides farmers and their vets with key information that will allow them to make strategic decisions on animal health and how to optimise the use of antimicrobials when they are needed.

The project is led by AgriSearch, in collaboration with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland, LMC and Farmvet Systems Ltd, home of VetIMPRESS and co-funded through DAERA’s Research Challenge Fund.