Opinion

Preventing animal disease is the next frontier for agriculture in the UK

Improving animal health standards and reducing disease levels represent the next challenge for British agriculture.

A case in point is the fact that large numbers of locally-produced cattle present with significant liver fluke infestations at time of slaughter.

It immediately struck me that problems of this nature represent a genuine welfare problem for the livestock industry.

But more than that, they will lead to significant reductions in daily growth rates, while also predisposing the affected cattle to a host of disease challenges.

It’s now evident that British farmers are sitting on a mountain of animal disease and health-related challenges.

Most of the time these issues are ticking along in the background, not visible to the naked eye. But every now and then factors kick-in to bring these matters to the forefront of farmers’ minds.

For example, if something happens to increase the stress levels encountered by animals in any way, their ability to defend off disease just melts away. And the end result is carnage.

The other reality which livestock farmers will have to accept is that the days of using antibiotics as a convenient get-out-of-jail card when treating sick animals are fast coming to an end. The real game afoot for the future is that of ensuring that animals do not become ill in the first place.

Dr. Georgina Crayford, a senior policy advisor with the UK’s National Pig Association, claims that it will take a fundamental mindset change to get farmers weaned off the use of anti-microbials.

She points to the need for pig farmers to significantly improve hygiene standards while also ensuring that animal stress levels are kept low at all times within pig units. She also stressed the need for disease prevention to be the number one management for producers, as they look to the future.

All of this made perfect sense to me. And, no doubt, the same principles hold for all the other livestock sectors in this part of the world.

There is universal recognition to the effect that farmers must become more efficient.

I used to think that preparing a farm animal health plan was a cosmetic exercise, required only for the purposes of a quality assurance inspection.

That was then. I now believe that putting preventative health measures in place must be the over-arching principle for every livestock farmers.

Healthy animals really are the key to securing meaningful production gains for the future.