NEW technology is helping Welsh farmers improve the health and welfare of their livestock during calving and ultimately reduce the need to use antibiotics.

Trials of new technology and methods are being undertaken on ‘Proof of Concept’ farms across Wales as part of Arwain DGC (Defnydd Gwrthficrobaidd Cyfrifol / Responsible Antimicrobial Use), a Welsh programme designed to help vets and farmers to address the spread of antibiotic resistance in animals and the environment in Wales.

Iwan Davies, who farms near Cerrigydrudion, operates an outdoor calving system in May, which is typically fairly problem free.

But, last year, after introducing a new Charolais bull to his Luing herd, there were some calving problems because the calves were large, and as a result, seven c-sections had to be performed.

However, the issues associated with calving were reduced due to the use of the bolus technology Iwan has been trialling at Hafod y Maidd as an Arwain DGC Proof of Concept farm.

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Due to the calves being so large, the cows were not showing the usual signs of calving, but the SmaXtec bolus – which sits in the rumen - acts as an ‘early warning system’.

Iwan received an alert enabling him to assess the situation sooner and contact his vet, Joe Angell from Wern Vets, resulting in a c-section and the calf’s safe delivery.

Iwan said: “We also had a cow that showed no sign of calving, but instinct told me something wasn’t right.

"The SmaXtec data also flagged her up, so I brought her in and put her on my watch list. It turned out she had a twisted womb, and she’s fine now.

"It is intuition and science working together; you cannot rely on any one thing, but combined makes a difference.”

He added: “The bolus system does not take the place of good husbandry or management, we’ve still got our eye on everything, but anything that can further help us – and help reduce the need for antibiotics – is a plus."

The SmaXtec bolus technology potentially saved the lives of seven calves and the farm from losing money - as, at the time, three-week-old continental-cross calves were averaging £268, and their loss would have cost the farm £1,876 immediately.

Although increased antibiotic use was seen with the calving difficulties compared to non-problematic calvings, with help from Joe Angell and the SmaXtec bolus technology, the total use of antibiotics was reduced in the beef herd from 8.6 mg/Kg in 2021 to 7.9 mg/Kg in 2022.

Meanwhile, Gwynedd dairy farmer Vaughan Davies has been trialling pedometer tags to alert him earlier when a cow is beginning to calve and to help identify cases of mastitis – and so help reduce the need for antibiotics.

Eiry Williams, Arwain DGC technical officer, said: “Calving is a crucial time for every farm, and it's very important for animal health and welfare and economic viability.

"Trialling new technology has proved to be effective in delivering calves safely with less chance of calf mortality – and the technology also reduces the need for antibiotics.”