Isabel Blanco Penedo
In the last years, there has been an increased intensification of farms in response to the rising demand for meat and milk on a global scale. Higher demand leads to opportunities for the livestock sector but on the other hand also to stress on it and the environment. Global climate change increasingly affects livestock production with an overwhelming negative effect on animal health and welfare. Under these two main and restrictive challenges (overpopulation and climate change), there are currently two main pathways that coexist. Mainstream farm intensification as currently developed is proving to have more negative effects than positive.
It leads to the handling of more efforts such as biological costs for animals, the increase of herd size without reducing animal monitoring, the major risk of antibiotics use to compensate for mismanagement and the need for more biological interpretations for the upcoming sensors. On the other side, organic farming is considered among the potential production systems solutions to cope with challenging times (Agenda 2030).
However, its agro-livestock practices should consider the need for continuous adaptation (resilience) to an ever-changing environment (including climate extremes), changing nutrient availability, seasonal forage availability, new disease epidemiology, and other new challenges in an environment of heterogeneous conditions.
In response to present and future different challenges, all farms (no matters the farm system) must be more efficient and sustainable and for that, there is a need to review current problems and the current epidemiology with a focus on the specificities of agricultural systems under this global changing world. Improvements in farm sustainability (and competitiveness), require a comprehensive understanding of the challenges at the farm operation, the farm as a system, the animal biology and the and also an understanding of the economic implications and environmental impacts of specific managerial decisions.
To start with, it is important to review the universal and historical principles underlying livestock system design, and how the management of genetics, nutrition, and environment have advanced efficiency through their impact on the physiological processes that control animal growth, development, and production. The disease is a barrier to sustainability. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate the link between animal husbandry and health and production at every stage of life by examining the science behind multifactorial syndromes, specific risk factors and efficient proactive management counterparty; and exploring the mechanisms by which disease can interfere with these processes.
Understanding the science of growth, immunity, and infection and learning the problem-solving skills are needed to advance animal health and production through optimal management practices should be addressed. The farm and each production system is an ecosystem in which animals and microbes live in mutualistic relationships, and managing the animals to enhance host defense, animal health, and production efficiency will prepare the animals' response to infectious disease.
There is also a great potential to integrate different sources of data at the farm (e.g. data collection through automatic systems to measure social interactions among animals and explore possible uses or sickness behaviour) or during later processing (i.e. slaughterhouses) to monitor the welfare state of the animals and the different levels of welfare. They will allow us to assess the overall management on each farm, and the effect of specific management factors.
Responding to these challenges requires effective communication with caregivers at the farm for proper animal handling, managing, preventing, and controlling. Preventing disease and promoting good health and welfare requires the farm community involvement driving the adoption by farmers of innovations that increase the capacity and preparedness of the farm system improving the resilience of production systems as well as animal health and welfare.
The purpose of my lecturing, under the prism of Veterinary Epidemiology, is to focus on the application of epidemiological methods (aligned with the most up-to-date scientific knowledge) to identify determinants in the environment, management and the animal itself that affect animal health, welfare and productivity. The final aim is to demonstrate that contributing to preventive actions and promoting the good health and welfare of animals across different production systems will ultimately affect the sustainability and competitiveness of the livestock sector.