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Antibiotics - A farmer's viewpoint

Colin Marry, Pig Farmer

A farmer’s main aim should be to produce healthy animals.  Healthy animals don't need antibiotics

Colin Marry runs PermaPigs, an 850 sow unit in Little Grange, Drogheda, Co. Louth.  The name PermaPigs comes from the term Permaculture, a system of sustainable agriculture centred on utilising the patterns of natural ecosystems. The philosophy of Permaculture is borne out by Colin’s current production trial whereby sows and piglets are housed together in a spacious unit heated to 20 degrees with a canopy providing a temperature of 30 degrees for the piglets.  The piglets can feed as needed, the sows have plenty of room to move around and Colin hopes that this environment will mean less stress for the young pigs leading them to thrive better into hardier and healthier animals. 

The trial is still in its early days and Colin is quick to say it may yet need much adjustment but he agrees that one of the consequences, if the system proves successful, would be a reduction in the use of antibiotics. “The main aim of the trial is to see if this system would be more profitable” says Colin “and while we use very little antibiotics on farm at present if this system was more broadly adopted by industry and it led to lower antibiotic usage as a consequence that would be very welcome too."

Colin pointed out that veterinary medicines are a significant overhead for his business and that he would be in favour of creating a situation that would reduce his overall usage through improving the herd health status of his pigs.

Where do you see a farmer’s responsibility in relation to prudent use of antibiotics?

“I see my responsibility first and foremost as being to produce as healthy an animal as I can.  Healthy animals don’t need antibiotics. Maintaining healthy animals means that the end food product for the consumer is a premium product.  ”

What message would you like to get out to farmers about antimicrobial resistance?

“Antibiotics are very important for the treatment of sick animals and I think farmers have a duty to try and protect the effectiveness of antibiotics for the future by using antibiotics responsibly and only when necessary.  That is the message that I would like to get out to farmers and where I would see our primary role in relation to antimicrobial resistance.  We need to make sure that we use antibiotics in a careful and targeted way so that they continue to work well against the illnesses we need them for.”

Note:  What is permaculture?

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians David Holmgren, then a graduate student, and his professor, Bill Mollison, in 1978. The word permaculture originally referred to "permanent agriculture", but was expanded to stand also for "permanent culture", as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’snatural farming philosophy.

It has many branches that include but are not limited to ecological designecological engineeringenvironmental designconstruction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modelled from natural ecosystems.