Breeding for High Production with Low Use of Antibiotics is Possible 

The dairy farmers in the Nordic countries clearly understand that breeding is a crucial part of ensuring a successful dairy business and just as important as finance, feeding and management. A natural defence against diseases in the genes is at the heart of our Scandinavian philosophy, driven by the fact that Nordic countries have very strict veterinary regulations regarding the use of antibiotics. With limited access to antibiotics, the dairy industry has been compelled to find other ways of keeping cows healthy. 

The Nordic tradition in breeding for healthy cows is reflected in the latest report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), from 2016: “Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 29 European countries in 2014”. According to this report, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are the EU member states with the lowest use of antibiotics in livestock, with an outstanding leading position.

Sales in mg/PCU (Population Correction Unit) of veterinary antimicrobial agents marketed for food-producing animals.

Source: Adapted from the report by European Medicines Agency, European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption, 2016. ‘Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 29 European countries in 2014’. (EMA/61769/2016).
The situation regarding the use of antibiotics in cattle breeding in the UK is of particular concern. The Agricultural Authorities in the UK are aiming for a reduction of 20% of mg/PCU (Population correction unit) by 2020, based on a plan dating from 2015. 

According to The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics in the UK, only 40% of inframammary antibiotics are used for sick cows, meaning that 60% of such use is on healthy cows (as prevention and growth promotion). In addition, 85% of non-organic farms use routine non-selective dry-cow therapy and there are at least two antibiotic treatments per cow, per year. 

High Milk Yield 

On the other hand, Scandinavian farmers not only have the lowest use of antibiotics but also the highest milk yield per cow in 305 days, in kg all recorded cows and all breeds together, according to the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) and NAV data for Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Sweden has an average of kg milk of 9,740 kg, Denmark 9,705 kg and Finland 9,542 kg. Meanwhile, the average in the United Kingdom (England + Wales) is 8,430 kg, Norway 7,377 kg, Ireland 7,074 kg and Spain 8,405 kg.

Strict veterinary rules in the Nordic countries with restricted use of antibiotics have forced the farmers to find other ways of keeping their cows healthy. Good management and breeding for better health ensure success.

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