Antibiotics are no longer used on any lactating animals on Rodney Elliott’s 6,000-cow dairy farm in South Dakota, USA.
Elliott, who is originally from Maguiresbridge, Co Fermanagh, moved to the USA in 2006 to set up Drumgoon Dairy.
“We are just into our third year of using no antibiotics on lactating cows. It’s been amazing the results we have seen with it,” he told the Ulster Grassland Society on Tuesday.
Elliott decided to stop using antibiotics in the milking herd after residues were found in a cull cow, despite on-farm records indicating that she was three days past the withdrawal period.
We just milk our way through it and eventually, if the cow doesn’t pull out of it, we just cull the cow
He said that keeping accurate records of treatments was proving difficult as seven members of staff were administering drugs, and he was concerned that his dairy processor would cancel their milk supply contract if another incident occurred.
“Our death loss was 3.2% the year before and it is 3.1% now. Our cull rate was 32% and is still 32%. Somatic cell count went down, believe it or not,” Elliot said.
“In 70% of cases, mastitis will clear up just by milking. We just milk our way through it and eventually, if the cow doesn’t pull out of it, we just cull the cow,” he explained.
At drying off, only 30% of cows get treated with antibiotics and Elliott suggested that dry cow tubes could eventually not be allowed on dairy farms at all.
Having cross bred cows helps, as we have in-built vigour
The reduction in antibiotic use at Drumgoon Dairy equated to a financial saving of $800 every day. Elliott said that this money was invested in improving cow comfort and other measures to limit infection pressure on cows.
“It is not for everybody. Having cross bred cows helps, as we have in-built vigour. Diets are important too. We are not putting too much pressure on cows to produce milk, but we are still doing 10,700 litres. I don’t miss antibiotics one bit,” Elliott maintained.