"We always use a narrow spectrum of antibiotics"

Sofia Muñoz is a district vet based on the west coast of Sweden and employed by the Swedish Board of Agriculture - a government agency. She explains that they are not only responsible for border control and official tasks but are also active in both large and small animal practices. “To ensure that all animals have access to veterinary care even if the owner lives in a remote area and therefore we also ensure animal welfare is safeguarded,” she says while explaining about cow inspections, registration systems, low use of antibiotics and protocols for the transportation of cattle for breeding.
What are the main duties for the Swedish Agricultural authorities with regard to cow inspections?

The Swedish Board of Agriculture (SBA) collects data from different sources such as calving, purchase, trading and culling. The SBA also obtains data such as treatments reported by vets and farmers on an individual basis. The data include all herds that send data to the Swedish Cattle Database, that also obtains data from other sources such as on hoof-trimming, artificial insemination, milk analysis, milk production, slaughter data and conformation classification. A livestock cooperative, Växa Sverige, maintains and manages records from the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

What is the aim of the cow register in Sweden?

“I understand that the records are mainly used to be able to trace animals in the event of outbreaks of animal diseases. It has also plays a role in financial support and to help public authorities monitor animal welfare and so on.

What benefits do  farmers get for entering data in the cow register?

“The farmers own the data themselves and can decide how their information may be used. It enables them to compare their herd with national benchmarks and to see trends over time. They can also view statistics and how their herd has developed over time.

What is more, all information from the herd is held in the database including information on each individual cow regarding e.g. milk production. It also provides a basis for advisory services such as calculating feeding rations and I can use it in my daily work advising farmers that I see regularly and that enables me to implement improvement schemes. Many farmers also feel proud to contribute and view the registers as quality measures and a tool for analysis purposes.”  

The use of antibiotics is very restrictively controlled in Sweden; can you describe how the process to get antibiotics for a farmer works? What are the most common reasons a vet prescribes antibiotics?

“In Sweden we only use antibiotics if a vet determines that the animal has a  bacterial infection that its own defence system cannot overcome, or not using antibiotics would entail unnecessary suffering. A farmer can only get antibiotics on prescription from a vet for an individual animal. A couple of years ago, farmers that have particularly healthy animals were permitted to keep certain medications on the farm if an approved vet makes regular visits. The vet then provides preventive counselling at one to six-week intervals depending on the herd size and overall health status.

We always try to choose as narrow a spectrum of antibiotics as possible and penicillin is still effective. We make a bacteriological examination of milk from each individual cow in every case of mastitis to determine which pathogen caused the mastitis. Cows with mastitis caused by a pathogen resistant to penicillin (positive to beta-lactamase) are usually then culled. Swedish animal production actually has the lowest use of antibiotics in the EU and I am very proud to be a part of that.”

How important is the welfare of the animal (cattle breeding) to Swedish authorities?

“In Sweden, animal welfare is regulated by the Swedish Welfare Act that stipulates that all animals should be treated well and must not be subjected to unnecessary suffering and disease. Animals, whether a dog or a hundred cows, must be kept in a good environment that allows them to express their natural behaviour. The concept of natural behaviour is important in Swedish legislation. Animals should be kept so that they are motivated to express their natural behaviour. Animals should be allowed free range and tie stalls are therefore being phased out.”

Can you give us examples of some of the protocols we have in Sweden regarding cattle breeding welfare?

“One practice that makes Sweden unique is that all cattle must spend at least 2-4 months a year out-side. The length of time depends on where in Sweden the herd is located. In the further north, farmers are only required to let out their animals for two months a year but in the south, four months is a minimum. This also includes dairy cattle.”

What are the main rules regarding animal transport?

“In Sweden, you are allowed to transport cattle for a maximum of eight hours. You are permitted to extend cattle transport up to 11 hours if you comply with special requirements such as providing water and feed in transit. You are never allowed to transport gestating animals within four weeks of calving and three weeks after calving. If the journey is to a slaughter house, the maximum is eight hours but occasionally up to 11 hours is permitted if the slaughter house is a long distance away.”

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