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Working towards a sustainable farming future

Good animal health is crucial for high yields and farm productivity, but not just to meet consumer demand. Efficient farming practices, which prioritize animal health and welfare, help to reduce the impact of farming on the environment. 

Over the past year, we’ve been interviewing people from around the world to learn about best practices in animal health. You’ll hear from them all in an upcoming project called, The Story of Animal Health, launching this summer.

Here’s a preview of what we heard when we asked a farmer, a scientist and a veterinarian for their views on the importance of animal health and sustainability in, what some argue, is an increasingly unsustainable world

The farmer

Jill Stewart is a sheep farmer in Australia’s Otway Ranges where she manages a flock of 1,300 breeding ewes and 1,600 lambs every year. She explains why healthy animals are crucial to the efficiency of her farm. 

Why is it so critical that you feed, care for and vaccinate your sheep?

Having healthy animals is really important. If you have animals that are underweight or not in good health, they’re more likely to pick up diseases or be more susceptible to worms. Their body can’t fight the worms as well when they’re under the weather, so it’s important that we keep the sheep in  good condition, and to make sure that any medicines that we do have to give them are given on time, and at the correct time.

How can unhealthy animals impact your farm’s output?

If you don’t look after your animals, if you’ve got animals that aren’t in good condition and aren’t well cared for, you’re not going to make much money. 

We have done a lot of courses on sheep nutrition, sheep handling, pasture management, paddock management, and agroforestry, so that we’re just constantly trying to improve the way we do things. We want to reach the top benchmarks in what we’re doing here.

How does it feel to know you are producing a high quality product from healthy sheep?

I’m really proud of the way we run this farm, because I think that we are running it sustainably. We’ve now made it a really well protected place, so I think that the stock have a pretty good life while they are here. They’ve got a nice place to live, it’s well sheltered, they’ve got good food. They’re calmly and quietly handled, and the sheep that are here are well looked after. So, I feel quite proud of the way we produce our product that we send out.

The scientist 

Aleta Knowles is a veterinary scientist, specialising in parasitology and immunology. We discussed how her work improving the health of sheep has a direct benefit towards making intensive farming more sustainable.

How do the products you create reduce the impact of farming on the environment? 

If a farm is running optimally, they may get to raise fewer animals for the same output, which is important from environmental viewpoints. If we can be sustainable and highly productive then the impact of agriculture is less. So, I think that’s an important output of our products when they get in the hands of farmers.

How important is the role of animal medicines to consumer demand?

The medicines that we produce provide sustainability. They make [farmer’s] enterprises more viable. It means that farming can be more profitable. Ultimately it means that animal protein is more affordable for consumers. I think that the animal medicines that we produce play an important role in that whole protein sustainability. The more efficient that farmers can be, the less livestock they need to farm to get the same output. As resources are becoming increasingly stretched, I think the role that animal medicines play in that is increasingly more important.

Healthy sheep produce more meat, they produce more milk, and they produce more wool, and that’s where I direct my research, to ensure that we have healthy sheep.

The veterinarian

Chris Matthews has been a vet for 15 years. He is currently working with fish farmers in Scotland to help give a new industry longevity. 

Why is good animal husbandry so important for a sustainable industry? 

Atlantic salmon production is now Scotland’s largest food export, and it’s hugely important to the economy and to the communities where we work. It makes me really proud that we’re involved in helping make the industry continue to produce a quality product. At the end of the day, healthy fish are quality fish, so what we do is really important what we do.

How is the animal health industry working to make salmon farming more sustainable and reduce the impact on the environment?

Vaccination in the last 20 years has been a tremendous success story in Scottish salmon farming. It’s reduced the need for antibiotics in the sea water stage. It’s almost eliminated the need for antibiotics in sea water fish production. 

What challenges are you currently facing?

Salmon farming is a very new industry, and we’ve only been farming salmon for 30 or 40 years compared to terrestrial species, which have been farmed for thousands of years. That means that there’s a lot of health challenges that we still have to unravel and understand.