Beef and dairy cattle herds are using more vaccines and fewer antibiotics according to a new report which shows the total number of vaccine doses rose by 15% between 2011 and 2017.

While vaccine sales peaked in 2014, they slipped in 2015 and 2016, partly as a result in the collapse of milk prices and dairy farm incomes, the report from AHDB claims.

“Farmers are prepared to spend money when they have it to protect the health and welfare of their animals, but when incomes fall and overdrafts are under pressure, vaccines may be a victim of cost-cutting," said Derek Armstrong, AHDB lead on veterinary matters.

“Vaccines have an important part to play in helping to meet the industry targets to use antibiotics more prudently, to reduce disease and improve animal welfare and performance. Strategic vaccination should be part of every farmer’s plan to protect animal health,” he said.

The biggest increase in vaccine use over the period was for Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), at up 43% and calf pneumonia, which rose 30%, and was particularly welcomed when it is one of the commonest reasons for use of antibiotics in cattle.

There is nevertheless still room for improvement according to Mr Armstrong who said that while almost a half of all breeding cattle which could have been vaccinated for Bovine Virus Diarrhoea (BVD) were vaccinated in 2017 but less than a quarter of cattle at risk of IBR were vaccinated.

However, he added that the drop in sales of antibiotics for use in livestock in 2017 demonstrates that farmers are being proactive and are looking for ways to improve animal health without relying on antimicrobials.

Modern vaccines work well and give good protection as long as they are stored and used correctly before the period when cattle are at risk of disease. “Some farmers are prepared to take the risk and don’t vaccinate or leave it too late to vaccinate and give their animals useful protection. When disease strikes there are inevitably costs both in terms of lost performance and poorer animal welfare and sometimes avoidable deaths,” he concluded.