The sale of veterinary antibiotics for food-producing animals – the main ones being cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens – is closely monitored and scrutinised in the UK.

Vets, farmers and the broader industry have been working hard to reduce the use of antibiotics in not just food producing animals but all animals (and people in the case of the medical profession).

The principle is very much that where antibiotics are required they are to be used responsibly.

A recent publication by the Veterinary Medicines Directive reported a 53 per cent reduction in the sale of antibiotics between 2014 and 2018.

This is great progress but there is still more to do.

One of the areas of focus has been the use of antibiotics in cases of calf respiratory disease. Calves are vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections, especially while housed over the winter period.

A preventative approach is required in advance of the period of risk rather than reaching for a bottle of antibiotics when problems do occur.

As with many infectious diseases, the development of calf respiratory disease is a net result of the balance between the scale of challenge of bacteria and viruses in the calf’s environment and the ability of the calf’s immune system to ‘fight off’ the infection.

Firstly, we should look at the bacteria and viruses within the calf’s environment.

To essentially dilute these bugs livestock sheds should be adequately ventilated so removing excess water vapour, bacteria, viruses, dust and gases and instead filling the building with fresh clean air. Cattle have a sense of smell 14 times stronger than man. Strong smells resulting from a build-up of faeces and urine will irritate the calf’s airways predisposing them to infection.

Effective vaccinations are available to boost the calf’s immunity to most viruses and bacteria responsible for causing respiratory disease.

Secondly, and equally importantly, the calf’s level of immunity relies on them simply being healthy and well fed, but specifically and crucially, that they have had plenty of the dam’s colostrum at birth – the way most mammals get their immunity for the first few weeks of life.