Monday, July 15, 2019

Animal health is key to future of sustainable livestock production

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Healthy livestock are the cornerstone of sustainability for the UK livestock industry, says a white paper launched by MSD Animal Health.

The paper – Healthy livestock produce sustainable food – argues that fostering good animal health maximises production for each unit of input, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and gives the industry a competitive advantage in the global market.

“The farming industry has worked hard in recent years to improve animal health and welfare, reduce antimicrobial use and improve consumer trust, all while driving productivity,” says co-author Paul Williams, technical manager for MSD’s ruminant animal health division.

The paper argues that animal health is critical if the sector is to achieve long-term sustainability, including economic viability, environmental responsibility and social acceptability. Failure to do so will incur hefty costs for producers.

Higher output

“A healthy animal will produce a higher yield per unit of input, while having also increased overall productivity and lifespan, which for broadly the same reasons also results in a smaller carbon footprint than an unhealthy animal, as more is produced for less resource use,” says Dr Williams.

Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, for example, costs the cattle industry £200 per sub-clinically infected cow, warns the paper. It also increasing greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of energy corrected milk by 8%.

Meanwhile, the paper says porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome can decrease gross margins by as much as 74% on some pig farms – reducing annual output by 15%. This too results in increased resource use per unit of pork produced.

“These are significant costs to both productivity and the environment that can be avoided through improved animal health,” adds Dr Williams.

Advanced industry

“Increased productivity, environmental sustainability and societal benefits of healthy livestock will accommodate future food production, but they need to be boosted by having regulatory frameworks, benchmarks and incentives in place.

“The UK has one of the most advanced farming industries in the world, and we’ve seen a marked reduction in antimicrobial use as a result of industry benchmarking. However, it is estimated that 20% of animal production worldwide is lost as a result of disease.”

To continue to meet the challenge of improving livestock health and productivity, the paper argues that UK producers must emulate these benchmarks by placing animal health, disease prevention and sustainability at the heart of their business strategy.

“By putting best-in-class practice, such as high standards of biosecurity and stockmanship, and using vaccination to protect against future infection, at the top of the agenda, the rewards will be seen far beyond the farmgate.”

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