Reducing Antibiotic Usage in Suckler Herds

Antibiotic usage in suckler herds is relatively lower than most other livestock industries. The suckler industry has therefore come under less intense scrutiny to reduce its antibiotic usage. RUMA task force has set a target for 2020 of a national average of 10mg/PCU (population controlled unit) for the UK beef industry. The vast majority of our suckler herds at Larkmead are already achieving well under target.

This does not mean that more cannot be done. We are still trying to reduce the number of animals exposed to antibiotics in their lifetime. The majority of antibiotics used in the suckler industry are administered to youngstock.

Due to the subsequent lower dose used, the overall amount of antibiotic used can appear low while many animals are exposed to antibiotic therapy. The launch of our herd health reviews has provided an excellent insight into opportunities to reduce antibiotic usage in suckler herds.

The majority of antibiotic treatments in suckler herds used are for pneumonia and scour in youngstock. There are three management aspects that can be addressed to reduce this usage: passive immunity, environment and vaccination.

Passive immunity

Calves acquire antibodies from their dam through drinking colostrum. These antibodies will provide vital protection for the calf until it produces its own antibodies. Factors that affect passive transfer of immunity are volume and quality of colostrum. Volume of colostrum consumed is difficult to monitor in the suckler cow. However, calves that are slow to stand and suckle should be monitored carefully. If we are suspicious that a calf has not received adequate colostrum, it should be tube or bottle fed with the dam’s colostrum. Colostrum quality is affected by the dam’s energy and nutrient levels. If you are concerned about the quality of passive immunity in calves, it is important to assess the energy and protein levels of the cows around calving time. This can be achieved with a blood test.


Calf scour commonly affects cattle that are housed at calving but can also affect outdoor calving herds. Hygiene is essential to reduce transmission of disease around calving time. Achieving a tight calving block and splitting the calving group can help to reduce infection of younger calves by older calves within the group. Youngstock are typically infected with pneumonia at housing. Building quality and ventilation are essential to improve lung health. Discuss your buildings with your vet at your next annual health review.


Most suckler herds are closed, which provides a huge advantage when it comes to developing a vaccination protocol for the herd. The same pathogens are likely circulating every year and many causes of scour and pneumonia can be vaccinated for. Talk to your vet about testing for pathogens on your farm and how they can be prevented.

Considering the above steps could not only reduce your antibiotic usage but also improve the growth rates and health of your herd!