Reducing the amount of antibiotics used within his business is a priority for Stuart Mitchell, who milks 240 pedigree Holstein/Friesian cows at Grougar Mains Farm, on the outskirts of Kilmarnock.

He farms alongside his wife, Mary, and father Wilson, with the herd calving all year round and currently averaging 10,400 litres at 4.32% BF and 3.37% P.

The farm also features an arable enterprise, consisting of 140 acres of winter wheat, winter barley and spring barley, grown annually.

Stuart said finding ways to reduce the amount of antibiotics used across the dairy enterprise has been a priority for some time. “The issue is now starting to take priority in the context of the farm quality assurance scheme," he commented. But, he believed he has found a new way to address the challenge of mastitis, without a direct reliance on the use of antibiotics.

This alternative management approach comes in the form of new thinking that originated in the Netherlands, courtesy of AHV International – a company which produces a range of products that act to assist the animals’ own immune system by using the new science of Quorum Sensing (QS).

Studies by KU Leuven and MICA – published in the 'Nature Communications' journal – show how disrupting the quorum sensing, or communication, between specific bacteria affects their biofilm and formation.

"Without their protective mucus layer, bacteria are washed away by mechanical forces and can be more easily killed by the immune system," said Professor Steenackers, head at MICA Lab, KU Leuven and lead author of studies on antibacterial strategy.

Encouraged by the success achieved by dairy farmers in other parts of Europe using the AHV range, Stuart decided to try the same approach himself, where mastitis control is concerned – a decision which has paid off.

“I have been using AHV ‘Extra’ tablets on cows that flag up with clots in their milk. We have a fast exit milking parlour on the farm, so catching a cow by the head is very straightforward and the tablet is very easy to administer,” he said.

“Almost all of the cows that have been treated have responded well and, in most cases, the animals are back to normal within a week. Some cows with a larger infection can shed clots for longer. There is no milk withdrawal associated with the use of the tablets, which is a major bonus."

“It takes a while to get used to the response of the cows to the tablets. The amount of clots they produce actually increased for the first couple of days, which is a consequence of the cows actively cleaning out all of the infection that has built up in the udder," he added.

“In cases of cows having a hard quarter, I also use the AHV anti-inflammatory. It comes in drench form and is called ASPI, which is also very straightforward to use.”

According to Stuart, antibiotic use for the treatment of mastitis has fallen by one-third over the past year. “I attribute this to the use of the tablets and it's also worth noting that our somatic cell count remained consistently low throughout this period,” commented Stuart.

The AHV range is distributed in Scotland by a new business called Agri-Pharma, and its Elspeth Gibson has been working closely with Stuart in recent months. “AHV products utilise a new science called Quorum Sensing but you need to give farmers the time to build up their confidence in using them,” she explained.

“Using Aspi in tandem with the ‘Extra’ tablets is strongly recommended as the Aspi supports the immune system in its deployment of immune cells. This has a positive effect on the udder tissue, as it becomes soft again, and improves the well-being of the animal,” added Elspeth.