Slovenia: Challenges and successes in dairy farming

In an interview with Dr. Ozbalt Podpecan, M2 magazine learned about the challenges and successes of dairy farmers in Slovenia. Podpecan is a veterinarian based at the Savinian Veterinary Policlinic in Slovenia.

Challenges

Slovenian dairy production, says Podpecan, remains fragmented. Typically, farms are small, family-owned operations that produce less than 150,000 kg per year. Most cows are kept indoors, often in very poor conditions. Great efforts are put into preventing and treating mastitis, but somatic cell counts (SCC) are still high.

“The threshold of SCC is 400,000 cells/ml, but in summertime it is difficult to achieve this level,” admits Podpecan.

Dr. Ozbalt Podpecan of Savinian Veterinary Policlinic in Slovenia.
Dr. Ozbalt Podpecan of Savinian Veterinary Policlinic in Slovenia.

There are, however, more modern operations that take udder health quite seriously. Their main problem, though, regarding mastitis is controlling contagious pathogens. The main problem, says Podpecan, is consistency in following protocols. “After several months, farmers give up or they think that further measures are unnecessary,” he says.

Another challenge that directly impacts farmers is their lack of trust in veterinarians. “A major challenge for the Slovenian veterinary profession is to convince farmers that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Podpecan. “Veterinary input should be considered as an investment, not a cost.”

Another challenge that Podpecan and his colleagues face is helping farmers eradicate BVD and IBR-IPV viruses, as well as S. aureus. “Despite all the effort we put into the education of farmers, discussions at farm visits, promoting examples of good practice, etc, only a few of them followed the programs and obtained free status,” he said. “And it’s the same situation with S. aureus eradication programs. No matter how successful the various programs are, after a time some farmers abandon them.”

Successes

While challenges remain, the Slovenian dairy industry has not been without its successes. In fact, Podpecan says that when it comes to the use of antimicrobials, Slovenian dairy farmers can be proud of all that they have accomplished. Perhaps, though, their accomplishments in this area are due to some very strict legislation. First of all, no animals can be treated without diagnosis. Secondly, farmers are not allowed to inject antimicrobials or hormones in the muscles, submits or intravenously, explained Podpecan. With cows, they are only allowed to administer intra-mammary tubes.

“All this has resulted in relatively good microbial sensitivity to antimicrobial drugs and their small consumption in the cattle herd,” said Podpecan.

But it doesn’t stop there. Every millilitre of antimicrobial drugs must be traced from pharmacy to to the veterinary organization, from the veterinary practitioner to the end user (the cow). In Slovenia, says Podpecan, these procedures work with excellent results.

“In my opinion,” he said, “we are containing antimicrobial resistance successfully – so far.”