The Farm Vet Champions initiative was launched in May 2021, and an information card was widely distributed urging vets to “join us as Farm Vet Champions – leading responsible antibiotic use”. Initial thoughts were that this was a bit of a chest-puffing exercise and would raise a smile on-farm that their vet is now a champion. It seemed a little, well, not British – a mite boastful. This collaborative project is spearheaded by RCVS Knowledge and funded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and those initial considerations have been overtaken and moved on in spades. Early ideas outlined that it would be fairly straightforward to harvest the low-hanging fruit, whether that be moving away from critically important antibiotics or simply working with clients who are responsive to fresh ideas. Well, the low-hanging fruit has been gathered in, and much of the rest of the crop is likely to be soon in storage.
Farm Vet Champions is an initiative that involves all those in veterinary practice and beyond. Considerable time and effort was spent sorting out the logistics, and in May 2022, the SMART goals tool was launched as a major learning platform. So, it isn’t a “chest-puffing” exercise – it’s a serious amalgamation of knowledge and awareness that enables the whole veterinary team to latch onto the ways and means of improving animal health. Although the initial emphasis was on reducing the use of antibiotics on-farm, it is apparent that in order to achieve this, there has to be an effective understanding of the reasons for treatment in the first place as well as the concerns and historical factors. Achieving confidence in change is one of the major talking points, and no one is pretending that this is an easy or a tick-box exercise.
[Farm Vet Champions] is a serious amalgamation of knowledge and awareness that enables the whole veterinary team to latch onto the ways and means of improving animal health
Listening to the RCVS Knowledge podcast, with Farm Vet Champions Clinical Lead Fiona Lovatt chatting to Emily Gascoigne about lambing, there is lots of insightful information about flock issues. The condition of the ewes, colostrum, lamb survival and lamb growth are all mentioned, but it’s not the technical content alone that holds the listener. Even if you have nothing to do with sheep, it’s worth listening to the conversation between two enthusiasts – it’s uplifting. Yes, there are key messages, and there might have been considerable work in advance to encompass this many aspects; however, it is also the enthusiasm, interest and awareness of the problems faced by clients that inspires. They acknowledge and recognise that many farmers are already doing the job really well, but they don’t always credit their own expertise. It may not be easy to train for empathy, but that is the element that comes through. So, not boastful, not dogmatic, but more of a partnership involving forward planning and recognising outcomes – this is the aim.
Currently, there is an online survey to ask how anyone involved with the Farm Vet Champions project would like to receive information. The podcast route is favoured by many as it can be listened to while driving. There are several SMART goals modules, all of which are web-based and can be viewed on a laptop or phone. Though it may be that individuals will prioritise those that appear more relevant to their interests, the idea is that even if a vet rarely meets goat keepers, for example, it may be useful to view the goat module. The more members of a practice, whether they are vets, techs, nurses or support staff, who are aware of the Farm Vet Champions content, the better. This is because it moves away from the idea that one person in the practice becomes a Farm Vet Champion and passes information around the practice – the more participants in the activity, the better! There is a real role and value in gathering client data, particularly in support of an annual flock/herd health check with farms that are not regularly visited.
There is a real role and value in gathering client data, particularly in support of an annual flock/herd health check with farms that are not regularly visited
A slide currently being used at presentations indicates that there are over 700 registered users of the SMART goals modules, but this figure is climbing rapidly. To get the best value from the SMART goals information it is recommended that you look at the “Introductions to medicines” and the “Communications and behaviour” modules. To date, everyone has adopted these two modules and then been selective over the cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and “Collating and recording antimicrobial use” modules. The Farm Vet Champion SMART goals all work in parallel with the Medicine Hub and the drive to improve medicine use awareness by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
|There will be sessions with Fiona Lovatt on the Farm Vet Champion SMART goals at the forthcoming British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress (20 to 22 October 2022) on the Friday and the Saturday.|
Plan, Prevent, Protect
There is also talk about everyone needing “head space” to plan ahead and create an action plan. A support and direction package between the client and the veterinary practice has to be in place before a clinical disease challenge. Once a disease strikes, it’s difficult for the farmer to be receptive to change, and a resolution of the immediate problem is required then and there. It all comes together with the “Plan, Prevent and Protect” mantra, which crops up with every activity associated with Farm Vet Champions. Disease is less prevalent in the summer, so this may be the best time to plan ahead. If there are several hundred client farms in a veterinary practice, this will require an organised approach rather than a piecemeal plucking of the low-hanging fruit.
Speaking to Mark Jelley, who has been involved with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) cattle antibiotic reduction targets, he points out the value of the veterinary review as part of Red Tractor. Although we understand that there has already been lost performance if antibiotics need to be administered, the additional cost of vaccinations compared to antibiotics needs to be assessed as a long-term benefit.
Work is ongoing to involve the veterinary schools in the Farm Vet Champions initiative. The application of knowledge and the collection of source information is, of course, highly important and relevant; however, there is a gaping hole that is soon found by participants, and that is case histories. Managers do not just want back-slapping incidences of reduction in antibiotic use. What is needed is detail and accounts of the problems experienced, whether these are resolved or not. The podcast route is one platform where discussing situations and solutions allows for greater flexibility than the technical papers and studies, and practices may find this route easier to run with. The huge positive is that farmers are buying into the responsible use of medicines concept in a big way: the idea is fully adopted, it’s just pushing the details of application into the confidence zone. It is a target to have case histories linked to each of the modules, and suggestions are welcomed by RCVS Knowledge.
Managers do not just want back-slapping incidences of reduction in antibiotic use. What is needed is detail and accounts of the problems experienced, whether these are resolved or not
Many studies are also relevant to the topic of veterinary medicines, and various institutions have expertise that is being fed into application at field level. If we take a step back, an initial concern was the link between the use of medicines in animals generating resistant organisms that threaten human health. Full details about the process of reducing veterinary medicines use in the UK are available from RUMA. One of the awaited research documents is just how a reduction in therapy reduced the incidence of resistant organisms. At farm level, it would be of help to know how quickly resistant organisms are purged from a herd or flock. The resistance data is generated in private and state laboratories and routed back to the veterinary practice to support their clients. So, client A has a resistance problem and steps are taken to address this. Does the resistance go away in weeks, months or years? Just one more step in knowledge about the true benefit of change at farm and practice level.