Learning about Agriculture: 3. Lambs prancing in the fields.

Sheep are as much of a symbol of Wales as the dragon on our flag and so in this blog I’m going to be looking at all things sheep. Here we go.

Selective breeding is commonly used in agriculture to increase profitability, and sheep are no exception. Advantageous traits can be identified in parents so that these traits can be passes down to offspring, which will aid profitability and improve herd health. These traits are identified through EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) for rams, and Body Condition Scores (BCS) for ewes. EBVs are used to predict the breeding outcome for that particular ram, for example the EBV for fat depth is an indicator of whether the carcase will likely be lean. These however, are not the only factors that are used – the others being physical characteristics checked through the 5T’s – check toes, teeth, testicles, tone (BCS), and teat.  For ewes, BCS is the only method used and a score between 1 (thin) to 5 (fat) is given to each individual ewe and requires no specialized equipment or history unlike the EBVs which require CT scans. It looks quite easy to do but I can imagine it would take a while to differentiate between the five stages.  You just place your hand on the back of the sheep and feel for the transverse and spinous processes – if the ‘backbone’ feels rounded and the bone on either side is detected with hard pressure then there is plenty of muscle and good fat covering, which would give a value of 3.  This value however, is dependent on the type of grazing, with hill ewes requiring a target of 2.5 as compared to lowland ewes with 3.5 and should be maintained for a month before tupping (mating)[i].

Maybe it’s just me, and that I don’t know anything about pregnancy, but I feel like farmers have got this pregnancy stuff down. The ADHB Better Returns Program has detailed guidance on each stage including a calendar on when everything happens. Its so good that I feel like I could give it a go and not completely mess it up. Some of the things mentioned are common sense, like to reduce stress for a month after tupping to allow attachment of the embryo, but others require knowledge of crops.

Physiological systems are designed to metabolize and convert chemicals, and as a student of pharmacy, we study how some compounds/drugs can be effective at treating a disease. Not all drugs are effective and so their structure is modified to aid its effectiveness within the body. For example, aspirin is a prodrug, a modified version of salicylic acid, which is the painkiller. As a drug salicylic acid has a serious side effect in that it causes gastric irritation. So, aspirin enters your system, and is metabolized to the useful compound, and your stomach thanks you for it. Clover is both advantageous for land management as it is a legume – plants which undergo nitrogen fixation, reducing the need for expensive artificial fertilizers; and a good source of protein for grazing animals. Red clover contains the phytoestrogen Formononetin which has no oestrogenic activity, but after rumic metabolism it is converted to equol. Equol is an oestrogen agonist meaning that it is able to bind to oestrogen receptors, mimicking its action. Oestrogen receptors are found in a multitude of organs in the body, which explains its anabolic effect which is beneficial in stimulating muscle growth. However, depending on lengths of grazing, it can cause infertility, which may be permanent in ewes. Reduced conception rates are due to changes in the cervix such as reduced viscosity of the cervical mucus, but of those that carry, it can result in conditions such as a prolapsed uterus[ii].

Like humans, sheep undergo ultrasound scans to determine pregnancy, which normally occurs at around 80-100 days post-tupping, and allows a series of decisions to be made regarding both farm management and animal welfare. Dry sheep (those not carrying lambs) can be sold, those with multiple births given more feed.  It can also help detect problems on the farm, for example if there are considerable losses between scanning and birth then ewes may be diseased and an investigation needs to be made.

With 75% of foetal growth occurring in late pregnancy diet changes need to be implemented to accommodate the ewe’s increased nutrient requirements[iii]. These changes include an increase in protein intake and increased calcium which is needed for both lamb skeletal formation and milk.

I have never been involved in the lambing season but I do know from other family member that have sheep that it can be a stressful time, with the need to be up and ‘on call’ so to say to aid with difficult deliveries and to make sure that newborns feed properly.  With the average flock size in Wales 362 for breeding ewes, it equates to quite a few deliveries[iv].

As cute as lambs are, they have high mortality rates at around 15% with 49% of lamb losses occur in the first 48 hours of birth[v]and so targeting each cause of mortality can reduce lambing mortality.  Each of these factors, which can be approached individually play an interconnected role in lamb welfare. For example, maternal body mass is a key indicator of lamb birth weight; and a low birth weight would mean that the lambs are weaker and so unable to suckle on the colostrum, leading to a reduction in both energy intake and immunity compared to those of higher birth weights[vi].

Lambs initially feed on colostrum (first milk produced by ewe) and this milk allows for passive immunity due to its high content of maternal immunoglobulin. It was found that pre-lambing vaccinations reduced lambing mortality[vii]and it would be interesting to see the Ig concentrations found in colostrum of vaccinated ewes vs those unvaccinated. Research for another day, or for my MPharm project perhaps?

Lambs can be reared by other dams in cases where the lamb is rejected, orphaned, or the dam is unable to feed the lamb itself which leads to other rearing sources. If a dam has multiple births, one of the lambs may be transferred to a dam which has lost its lamb, which allows for mutual beneficiality – the dam does not suffer the loss of a lamb and the adopted lamb gains sufficient colostrum without competition. Artificial rearing is also an option, where they are fed on milk replacers which is a powder which is usually whey based and fortified with vitamins, that is mixed with water.

There are various finishing systems (increasing muscle mass ready for slaughter) for lambs including forage only, and forage with concentrate supplementation.  The change in diet should be gradually introduced, especially if the new diet consists of high amounts of carbohydrates. This is due to the possibility of rumen acidosis. This occurs when large amounts of carbohydrates are rapidly fermented causing a reduction in rumen pH, which a favourable environment for the growth of the Lactobacillus bacteria, which produced lactic acid and further reduces pH. This Lactobacillus favourable environment is less than ideal for the survival of other microbes causing them to die. The lactic acid causes water movement into the rumen resulting in dehydration[viii].

Feed management is also related to other major health concerns of sheep – the most common being Parasitic gastro-enteritis (PGE) which is an infection of worms in the digestive system, which is a significant cause of death among lambs. To reduce infection rates, grazing management strategies are implemented, setting lambs to pasture on different fields from years to year, or rotating between sheep and cattle on the pasture[ix]. However, if an infection is detected then anthelminthics are used, of which there are five groups: 1-BZ, 2-LV, 3-ML, 4-AD, and 5-SI. Group 1 is used as both a treatment and as a control measure through drenching lambs[x]but there is also growing resistance to this category along with group 2&3 due to its widespread use. This is an oral method of liquid administration where the dose is ‘injected’ into the throat of the lamb – rather like use of syringes that come with Calpol bottles these days, only larger. Even though this is only the third blog in the agriculture series I’ve come across so many different formulations available for livestock so I’m hoping to look into these in more depth in a subsequent blog.

The average sheep produces 2kg of wool annually[xi], which is sheared by an experienced team between May and July. Most sheep breeds naturally shed their wool as the weather warms, which leads one to have a slight panic in their newly-awoken haze as they open their curtains and think ‘its snowed’ only to remember that its those effing sheep at it again. Leaving little tufts of white wool all over the fields and leaving them looking scraggly with bits of wool half hanging off their forms, looking like they’ve just been in a fight. Shearing reduces external parasitic infections and of hyperthermia in the summer. The wool is packed and sent away to be categorized into seven main groups, which arise from different breeds. These categories indicate the price the farmers gets for the fleece. I remember going to my uncle’s farm when it was shearing day and I must say, even though it looked like a high stress environment and quite physically demanding I’d quite like to try my hand at packing (not shearing, obviously, as I don’t know how and am not strong enough.  I’d end up getting kicked in the face).

Another blog down, and poorly made (its exam season after all) but its given me an opening to learn more about sheep.  Even though I try to get a little detail in, it’s difficult in the time frame and what detail I do squeeze out of publications it ends up being about diseases. Once a pharmacist, always a pharmacist.

[i]AHDB. 2019. Managing ewes for Better Returns (Sheep Manual 4).

[ii]Reed, K. 2016. Fertility of herbivores consuming phytoestrogen-containing Medicago and Trifolium species. Agriculture, 6(3)35. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture6030035

[iii]TEAGASC. 2017. Ewe nutrition in late pregnancy.

[iv]Armstrong,E. 2016. Research briefing the farming sector in wales. National Assembly for Wales.

[v]Simcock,E. 2019. Lambing part 4 Ensuring survival of newborn lambs. NADIS

[vi]Ahmad et al. 2000. The level of immunoglobulins in relation to neonatal lamb mortality in Pak-karakul sheep. Veterinarski Arhiv, 70(3) 129-139

[vii]Phythian et al. 2020. Mortality, morbidity, and liveweight following multivalent clostridial and pasturela vaccination of lambs on six English commercial sheep flocks. Veterinary Evidence. 5(1).

[viii]Constable,P. 2015. Grain overload in ruminants. MSD Veterinary Manual.

[ix]McCarter,P. 2019. Gastrointestinal nematode infestations in sheep. NADIS

[x]McCarter,P. 2019. Gastrointestinal nematode infestations in sheep. NADIS

[xi]British wool. British wool facts – did you know?

Second year MPharm at Cardiff University

Even though it has been a whirlwind of a few months for everyone, I’ve managed to finish my second year studying pharmacy at Cardiff University. Yey! Following suit of last year, I’ve done a breakdown of the modules taught which will include any practicals and placements, and how the exams went.

  • Professional Development

This is a zero credit module the same as first year. We built on the mathematical skills from last year but it was a little more challenging as you had to teach it yourself (I had three different books to help me make sense of it all) but once you understand it, it’s not too bad. I do wish however, that other calculations would be included in the maths exam such as ones relating to ADME.

The other part of this module was placements, which I have discuss in a post from a couple of months ago but to summarise, the placements went down very well for the whole year, especially the chance to shadow a pharmacist working in a GP practice.

  • Clinical And Professional Pharmacy

I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. This module contains a large chunk of what I KNOW is very important stuff for a pharmacist to know but it’s also terribly boring – health & safety, pharmacy business, NHS regulations, and consumer law. Yawn.

The clinical side is where you start getting stuck into proper community pharmacy stuff – services available and how to consult on a MUR and EHC.  The only problem is that you don’t get much of a chance to do role play scenarios which are extremely useful or OSCEs. Therefore, I’d recommend getting into small groups and meet in the library to role play some scenarios that could come up in the OSCE.

You’ll still be doing POP (dispensing) but its focused towards legally and clinically checking prescriptions.  There are held by the brilliant teacher practitioners.  You’ll be split into groups within your workshop groups and you’ll have 15 minutes to legally and clinically check a prescription before feeding back to the group on any issues you found within the prescription. It can be a lot to get through in a short amount of time, but they are only small prescriptions, saying that, I have never seen a community pharmacist take 15 minutes per prescription to check, and so I’m hoping that in third & fourth year it will become more reflective of what actually happens. At the moment we’re heavily reliant on the BNF and EMC. This type of workshop reflects the ‘practical’ exam that you’ll have in the module but due to COVID-19 we only had a mock in this style.

Unfortunately this year we have no RTS workshops and so going into our mock OSCE was a bit daunting as we had no idea what to expect. All I can say is inhaler technique.

Providing Pharmaceutical Care (PPC) workshops are new to second year and are a chance to apply knowledge learned from other modules to real life settings. They’re held as a whole year group but are still very interactive with the teacher practitioners coming around and menti will obviously be used. You’ll be given a case/scenario and taught how to manage drugs and give advice on them, and use this in a different form each workshop e.g. a respiratory patient is admitted to hospital and so you must guess what’s wrong with them. It won’t be hard, you’re not medic or nursing student, so it’ll be something like an acute exacerbation of COPD (you’ll have the patient history not just a set of symptoms).  Then as they have been admitted to hospital, you’ll learn about hospital drug charts and how to read them and then formulate a care plan, something that will come up more in third year so I’m told.

What to expect in the exam – split MCQs full of questions about health psychology, and what’s included in the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974); and the second part containing sort answer questions based on cases seen in community pharmacy such as supply of EHC.

  • Diseases and Drugs 1

I’m not going to lie, this module is my favourite but also one of the cruellest. This year we covered some of the most common diseases of the human body which included: 

  • Asthma, COPD
  • Hypertension, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, arrhythmias, chronic heart failure.
  • Peptic ulcer disease, IBS & IBD, liver disease, oedema, constipation.
  • Diabetes, hormone hypo and hypersecretion, osteoporosis, glucocorticoids.
  • Urinary incontinence, contraception, HRT, male health.
  • Dry eye, conjunctivitis, glaucoma.
  • Hypersensitivity, vaccines.

You may think that it doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the beginning of the year we were given access to an excel spreadsheet which gave a list of over 100 drugs with columns to give indication, dose, adverse effects, contraindication, monitoring requirements, and counselling requirements.  We thought that we had to learn everything.

The COVID-19 pandemic does have its moments, and for me, that moment was during the online exam that we had. Split between MCQ and short answer questions based off case studies I felt prepared – if it was to be anything similar to the first year ‘Human Body Systems’ exam.  But oh no. There was one question on side effects, and that one being the obvious dry cough with ACE inhibitors, several on drugs used for liver disease (which I knew, thankfully) and more than I would like to count on pharmacology. Not nice pharmacology ones either, horrible nit-picky ones and oh, before I forget, two on Cystic Fibrosis…that we haven’t even been taught about (insert exasperated crying noises).

  • Formulation Science

In the series of practicals we start to make our own formulations but many of us seem completely and utterly lost. Sometimes, there is a ‘template’ you can use from previous Pharmacopoeia Monographs but when there isn’t, it becomes a little stressful a few days before the practical workshops where everyone is just adding random preservatives to their mix. There have been a few nice ones such as making calamine lotion in which I was tempted to sneak my phone out cause it was insta-worthy. By using what is called geometric dilution (a very calming process, I might add) I made a light pink mixture and it was just too cute. In the practical exam you will be expected to make two worksheets and then make one product which is doable in the time given but, it needs to be perfect. You can lose a lot of marks very quickly, like 15 marks for putting the wrong expiry date.

The MCQ exam was a little challenging but it would have been a lot worse without my notes. Why do I need to know what a supercritical fluid is? Sometimes in lectures they’ll add an example and tell you ‘it’s an example you don’t need to learn these values’ but they sneakily added them into the MCQs. You definitely need to know details for the module exam – you can’t get away with learning general concepts.

  • Design And Disposition

It covers a lot of last year’s stuff but in more detail. There’s still some organic chemistry that you need to know but it’s not too bad. ‘Human Drug Metabolism, an Introduction’ by Michael D. Coleman is a book worth dragging yourself to the library to get. You’ll be studying ADME again in second year and it has some really interesting chapters such as why drinking grapefruit is such a big deal and the effects of age on drug metabolism.

Last lecture of PH2112 we covered biologics. This particular lecturer’s research area was the use of natural compounds as drugs and said that marine organisms were a good source of antibacterial and anticancer drugs as it’s a competitive place to live in and so the organisms produce toxins to reduce competition.  He was looking into local sponges and found one in particular produced an antibiotic that was more potent than vancomycin, but he had yet to extract sufficient quantities of it to prove and publish – pretty cool right!  But it also made me think of home.  Menai Bridge on Anglesey is the home of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, nestled right by the Menai straits. We are always told how extraordinary the waters of the straits are, containing incredible species and so naturally I wondered if the department had looked into pharmacological uses, but alas, no.

The exam is tough and usually, I finish around an hour early in exams, but I barely managed to finish and had no time to look over my answers.  It covered pharmacokinetics and dynamic in detail which means that I’ll need to teach myself over the summer to properly catch up.

Overall it has been a tough year even though we have had fewer lectures and more workshops in order to apply what we’ve learned a lot more e.g. making error logs when checking prescriptions, inhaler techniques. I’m both excited and terrified of what is about to happen in third year.

Book Review: ‘The House at the End of Hope Street’ by Menna van Praag

For months I have searched for the perfect romance book. But, I am fussy – the cover doesn’t appeal, it’s too clichéd, or the characters seem boring.  I bought this book as I love fantasy novels but almost as if the house in the novel knew what I was searching for, and it fell into my lap and submerged me in a great literate love story.

Alba, our protagonist is able to see the auras of others – silver for hope, violet for joy, the entire spectrum of emotions that sets her further apart from those around her, even more than being a PhD student that is under twenty which reads at the speed of light. Alba Ashby is broken when the House at the End of Hope Street summons her into the property. The house has been a refuge for those who have needed it for two hundred years, where they are able to stay for ninety-nine nights to sort out their lives. The house is alive and its most remarkable feature is the hundreds of framed photographs which line its interior.  Previous occupants, their souls entrapped within photographs, talking as if they were still alive. History encapsulated within ink, able to guide the next woman that steps in.  Christie and du Maurier and Pankhurst and all the rest which shape the lives of women through their actions and writing stayed at the house at some point or another.

This is something truly wonderful as you may find yourself reading this book in a difficult time, or you may feel a little down and just imagining yourself in that situation, sitting in a cozy kitchen dunking some biscuits into tea while being lectured at by your favourite author. It portrays such a lovely image of the house, almost sagging underneath the history of the photographs.

The characters are distinct and real with realistic problems which weaves nicely with the magic of the house; and they, along with its caretaker Peggy nudge its residents in fixing their lives and for Alba this meant stepping out of her room and believing in the power of courage. I will tell you now, that this book contains a happy ending, and I must warn you now, spoiler right ahead…that the ship of Alba and Zoe is cannon, to use the words of my generation.

But if there is one thing that made me snap the book shut and exclaim in disbelief is that I was again fooled by the patriarchal imprint left on my mind of both sexism and compulsory heterosexuality. Many years ago now, I was told a riddle. Here it goes:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad.  The son is rushed to hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate – that boy is my son”

Who is the surgeon?

I was at a lossas the boy’s father has just been killed, so you start thinking well, perhaps he has two fathers.  In a study, an average of 14.5% answered correctly – the surgeon is his mother. And its just so shocking as it was later told by the same individual that when I were very young, I did not want to be a nurse, I wanted to be a doctor.

Now a little older, and a feminist, who loves Grey’s Anatomy and all it’s female lead characters which are doctors and head of departments, who reads about women’s history, was again fooled by gender schemas (stereotypes) carved into our minds though this patriarchal society. The whole time I thought that Dr Skinner was a man, a history professor that had broken our dear Alba’s heart. And the confusion that fell upon me when Alba said “Because I was in love with her.” I was lost.  Had no idea who this individual was, we had not been introduced to any girlfriend or anyone.  Reading onwards we learn that ‘she’ is Dr Alexandra Skinner. I had assumed through the heteronormative society that Alba was straight and so both factors led to me have a serious Captain Holt from Brooklyn nine-nine moment where I exclaimed three consecutive ‘OH DAMN!’s (s5.e14).

Book review: ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown

Let me just put it out there before I begin – I would not recommend reading this book while in the middle of a world epidemic. Terrible decision.

Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed in Florence with no recollection of how he got there.  He is attacked at the hospital and flees with his doctor, Sienna Brooks. His only lead to what happened is a digitally edited version of Botticelli’s ‘Map of Hell’.  They must follow clues hidden in the digital painting in order to stop a terrible creation from being unleashed.  The creator, Zobrist, believed that the human race was on its downfall due to overpopulation and the only way to save it was to take drastic actions.  His answer? A pandemic.

As I am currently writing this at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK it’s a pretty dire novel to read. This is a strength of the novel, in that it manages to convey that fear that many of us have about the state of the planet into a plotline impending global catastrophe.  By that I mean, fear is an international language and no matter how small or substantial the cause it is still the same.  Squeezing toothpaste out of the tube and noticing the ‘save water’ logo brings a rising panic of how we with our abundance of fresh clean water may one day become similar to those in dryer lands, with scarcely enough to survive. Back to the novel itself, I know that the situations are not the same and that we have antivirals and ventilators etc, but given that the Black Death started in China and hit Italy badly, it hits a little close to home.  With the Black death reducing Europe’s population by an estimated 50% and the fact that there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, Dan Brown managed to scare me sh*tless – from describing in detail the levels of hell which makes me want to become a devout Catholic, to overpopulation which makes me want to sacrifice myself to try and save the planet.  Thanks for that.  

Like most terrible ideas from terrible people, there is usually some sound reasoning behind their crazed ideology. Zobrist’s transhumanist ideas could revolutionize the way that we tackle major infective diseases.  A few years ago the world was shocked when a Chinese scientist gene-edited embryos to give HIV protection.  Modifying somatic cells such as that seen in treatments for cystic fibrosis is not inherited into the next generation, while the modification of germline cells (embryos) could be inherited. Zobrist’s example is that such gene therapy could change the way we deliver vaccines – instead of delivering billions of vaccines each year, one generation could be treated, which protects the subsequent. Inherited immunisations.

The novel forces us to think about life and death in terms of culture.  I never knew that The Black Death was followed by a Renaissance in Europe, a rebirth of culture. It gave us the works of the revolutionary Leonardo da Vinci which threw our understanding of the human body forward, the plays of Shakespeare, Michaelangelo’s carving of David, and Copernicus who said that the sun was the center of the universe, not the earth. It is beautiful really, that something so destructive was followed by something so revolutionary.  History repeats itself, where the The Spanish Flu gave us the Flapper and a giant leap in women’s rights (I mean, women’s rights had been a long fight but just for the sake of this review). Now a century later – what will we churn out?

‘One great work of art inspired by another’

This quote refers Langdon referring to the fact that Dante’s poem inspired Botticelli painting of the ‘Map of Hell’, and I feel like sometimes we forget that there are millennia of ideas out there and that we shouldn’t dismiss them just because they didn’t have the same technological advances as us. Art can inspire science, and science art.

The three sections of Dante’s poem – inferno, purgatorio, paradisio reminds me of quote linked to WW2 – ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’.  We are in the middle of darkness, and what is to come will also invariably be dark. But just because our future may look bleak at the moment, we cannot despair.  We must continue with our journey through this darkness to fight the virus and the recession to come.  We have a choice, to stop now and be in a prolonged darkness, to fight, and be freed from it a little quicker.

Another quote from the book which I totally loved was that ‘the truth can only be glimpsed only through the eyes of death’ – coming out from a mental cloud of darkness, or emerging from this isolation during COVID-19, we will see things differently. Perhaps this nation will finally start treating healthcare professionals as heroes as they are.  Perhaps that is too much to ask of the British public.

Book Review: ‘Miss Pereginre’s Home for Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs

Uncle Abe told wonderful stories about a magical land …stories that diminished in their reality in Jacob Portman’s mind as he grew up.  However, events cause Jacob to visit the little island of Cairnholm off the coast of Wales that feature in these stories to try and make sense of the tragic incident that occurs early in the novel.

This is the first book that I have read that features inserts such as these – black and white vintage photographs which are used to give us a visualization of some of the characters portrayed.  It makes the book so unique and almost gives the reader a sense of knowing the characters, it gives them life.  For some reason my favourite character is Horace, the boy with prophetic dreams just because I keep imagining him running around with the rest in a suit and top hat and monocle. It reminds me of how even though the residents of the loop have the bodies of children, they are in fact quite elderly.  Sort of like the opposite of most of us. They are old of heart but young in body.

“We cling to our fairytales until the price for believing them becomes too high…”

The emotional impact of a fairytale, in my experience, is quite extraordinary.  We first hear them as young children, and are re-exposed to adaptations as we grow older, reinforcing lessons that evil can be defeated. However, believing in them in today’s age required tremendous effort – we are subjected to such harshness from the media believing that we can save the world can cause negative psychological impacts on our minds and so that we learn to accept that evil will never truly be defeated.  It will always return, in one form or another.

There is another link to mental health within the novel, as Jacob has regular appointments with a psychiatrist. Awareness is slowly increasing around mental illness but our current treatment methods seem skewered towards a nomothetic treatment approach-

 “Dr.Golan’s function seemed mainly to consist of writing prescriptions. Still having nightmares? I’ve got something for that.”

This may seem strange coming from a pharmacy student, but pills cannot solve everything, especially mental health disorders. Diagnosing someone with depression then putting them on antidepressants isn’t tackling the root cause of the symptoms.  If someone complained of chest pain, suggesting angina, you wouldn’t give them painkillers and send them on their way.  You would investigate what was happening to the patient and prescribe nitrates etc accordingly to prevent recurrence and stop the progression. It doesn’t make sense why so many drugs are prescribed and so few receiving therapy.

The changeover within the loop is also a favourite of mine. Jacob has seen the bombed home and the remains of interrupted lives that fled, but inside the loop it is different.  Bullets and bombs rained around their home as they sang and watched, a bomb suspended mid air. Never exploding due to the looping of time.

“This nightly assault had become such a regular part of their lives that they’d ceased to think of it as something terrifying – in fact, the photograph I’d seem of it in Miss Peregrine’s album had been labelled Our beautiful display.  And in its own morbid way, I suppose it was.”

They turned a grotesque event into an extraordinary display and time after time we as humans are able to transform our hardships into something else entirely – I will not remember how I felt during this pandemic, I will not remember the fear as the death toll rises. I will remember the rainbows in windows and the gratitude of the nation as we praise the NHS.  When life gives you lemons and all that.

Blog post question: If you were able to set up a loop, where and when would you establish one?

Learning about Agriculture: 2. The Tagged Beast – Beef

The beef industry has been under scrutiny in the last few years, one example being due to the continuing increase in climate awareness resulting in diet changes towards veganism. Cattle are responsible for the greatest global emissions among livestock with beef the most as compared to dairy. So how is all this emission produced?[i]

Food is broken down by both enzymes and microbes in the ruminant gut.  The enzymatic metabolism produces hydrogen gas as a byproduct which is used to form either VFA (energy source) or by the bacteria to produce methane. Changes in diet can change methane emissions which is why the pressure on the beef market to adapt has led to exciting ideas such as that of adding seaweed to cattle diet.  It was found that adding just a little of the algae Asparagopsis taxiformis to their diet reduced methane production by up to 95% – consideration needs to be taken as current studies are in vitro.  For me this was such an incredible find as usually cattle get such negative press regarding methane emissions but now, with this insight, hopefully things will change.  I mean, it’s a long way away from being mass produced and widely available to farmers but there is hope.

Another hit to the UK beef market was due to a new disease outbreak in the 80s which led to widespread culling of cattle and distrust in the beef market.  In 1995, UK beef exports reached over £6oo million but by 1998, it had fallen to just £16 million[ii]. The disease commonly known as ‘Mad Cow Disease’ or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by an accumulation of prions – which are misfolded proteins, in the brain and spinal cord.  The most common signs were – changes in temperament, tremors, excessive licking[iii]. At this point in time, it was common to feed cattle a meat-and-bone meal in order to increase their protein intake. This means that cattle were eating the remains of their own species.  This infected meal was how BSE was transmitted throughout the UK.

It took four years from the first case for this practice to be banned in the UK but the damage was done. The public was told that beef was safe to eat but 5 years later the first zoonotic case of BSE occurred, which caused a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) resulting in a total of 144 deaths in the UK with the average age at death being 28. The young ages of death may be due to a higher consumption of infected meat but it is still unclear.  The incubation period is thought to be 13 years after which psychiatric symptoms develop then ataxia and dementia[iv].  Currently, there is no treatment available for prionic diseases.

It wasn’t just beef economy that suffered, as new legislations were introduced to improve traceability of cattle movements.  Passports were, and still are, issued to everycattle on the holding which must be updated each time, individually, even if the cattle are moved from one holding to another owned by the same farmer[v].  If you don’t have a passport, a source of income becomes difficult as you cannot move the animals from your land during its life and it cannot go into the food chain – which would be a major issue for beef producers[vi].  You may think that farmers can get away with not having passports or not updating them as who’s going to check a couple of boxes full of passports thoroughly? Well, there are inspections and is there are major issues then movement restrictions may be placed on the animals, and payment reductions from subsidy claims.

Side tracking a little, I wanted to know more about what I had heard at home – a subsidy called Single Farm Payments.  This name was actually changed a few years ago to become the ‘Basic Payment Scheme’ which is an income support available to farmers [vii].  Farming is a volatile business due to factors ranging from weather to slow price responsiveness of demand and supply where long term financial complication for the producer. In order to help small farms which supply us with something that we cannot live without – food, subsidies are granted.In Wales 56% of farms made a loss or would have without this vital support[viii].  That is a huge percentage to comprehend but it is a subsidy that must be continued in order to have a stable supply chain and affordable food. Without it, there would be fewer small farms, and from what I can image, there would probably be more intensive farming.  On the other hand, food production could be reduced resulting in increased food imports.

The subsidy is allocated by hectares and in Wales the rate is between 103.24-125.65 euros per hectare[ix]. In 2016, Wales paid out £224.0 million in BPS but has a gross value added of £457 million[x], which is over double and which is pretty good coming from investing in something that doesn’t make much profit. Its rather similar to what’s happening right now in the UK.  The government has introduced many new schemes to protect people and companies during this recession – which is causing government debt, but will hopefully stop the country falling into a depression. My knowledge in economics is non-existent but in a few years when we begin/have recovered from the effects of COVID-19 I would like to try to understand the stance that the government is taking right now in order to avoid problems in the future.

Back to the point, for cattle, the disease has an incubation period of an average of 4-5 years which means that cattle will show no early symptoms and as it is diagnosed through the observation of clinical symptoms, only cases in the later-stage are detected.[xi]Even today, there are no tests available to detect BSE in live cases before onset of symptoms.

So what happened to the infected cattle? They were culled – there is no treatment available for BSE, and even if there was keeping farmed animals is very different from pets. You can pet sit your pet and care for it until it dies, with insurance to cover vet costs, but for farm animals, unfortunately, the only option is to cull. Over 200,000 cattle were slaughtered in the UK due to BSE[xii], not all from confirmed bases but as a precautionary measure and so there was a compulsory cull of cattle born between October 1990 and june 1993x.

Growing up on a farm there is a lot of agricultural terminology flying around but until this blog I realized that I was pretty clueless even in that.  I thought that a bull was just any male but it’s a male which breeds, as compared to a castrated male – a steer.  And its not just basic terminology that had me baffled – what on earth are all the different types of herds?!

Suckler bred herd is from what I’ve gathered, ‘beef specific herds’ where the mothers are not milked and so they are able to suckle. Dairy bred is where calves are separated from the mother and fed using artificial milk (this is a smell that I SOOO miss. Monologue moment = I remember my dad mixing the powder with warm water and I can just remember the smell, like there’s a bucket of the artificial milk right in front of my nose right now.  A thick, sickly sweet smell – lovely.) since the mother is being milked.

I love calves. They’re just so cute.  When I was younger I used to climb into the individual pens to be with them.  I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure that our calving season was during the late winter or early spring.  There is so much to consider in terms of calving season not just ‘introduce a bull at this time to get calves at this time’.  For heifers its important that they are the correct liveweight etc as they are more prone to difficulties while calving and so measures need to be taken to reduce both difficulties and mortality.  These include mating with bulls that have good Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) for example, one of the traits include gestation length. A shorter times period means that the calf will be smaller in size resulting in easier calving.  These traits need to be carefully balances with calving ease and traits that will be good for the herd and farmer, such as eye muscle area EBV[xiii]– a positive value will mean that the offspring will be muscular – which is advantageous for the farmer when selling. I’ll try and learn more about morbidity and mortality during calving in a later blog.

It’s not just the care before calving that needs to be considered. Calving intervals depend on many factors – those with a poor body condition after first calving will have an anoestrous period of 50-60 days, length of suckling will also dictate anoestrous period[xiv].  I think that this is mainly due to the fact that the heifers are not only growing a calf and producing milk but are also still growing themselves. These factors reduce the mating period, which causes concerns over whether the cow will calve next season.

A finishing herd is the stage prior to slaughter which means that it’s where the cattle gain a sudden increase in weight which can range from 12 months (intensive) to over 20 months (extensive).  I think we had an average herd size for dairy when we were in production and now, even though they’re not our sheep and cattle, there are animals in the fields right now and so I don’t agree with the intensive 12 systems where they are fed on concentrates instead of grazing in order to increase the maximize the liveweight before slaughter.  In this instance, beef seems, and is really, a much harsher type of agriculture as compared to dairy.  You rear to maximize the meat on an animal, year after year, while with dairy you’re with the same herd for much longer…I don’t know, I’m not very good at explaining such things. Saying that, it was interesting to see the typical finishing systems and the weight aims from the different types of herd from MeatPromotion Wales[xv].

A document I read was going on about the different meat that comes from beef cattle and even though since going to University I have seriously expanded my cooking repertoire if you asked me from which area a ‘hock’ or ‘brisket’ came from and what is it best used for, I’d look pretty confused.  Maybe that should be added to my growing list of ‘Things I should know but don’t’.  It had an easy guide to fat assessment – which would have been helpful a few years ago when I was in Wales YFC. From the guide you could evaluate how much fat was on the animal which would indicate price at slaughter[xvi]from the EUROP classification grid. Lean and muscular cattle result in higher prices as compared to emaciated and obese.

Well, there it is. Took forever and a day and I still feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what I could learn – especially about calving and cattle diseases.  Hopefully I’ll manage to link some to future blog posts and squeeze them in.

Until next time.

[i]Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2018. Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model. Available at: http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

[ii]DEFRA. 2014. Detailed figures on the value and volume of UK imports and exports of food, feed and drink by indigeneity, degree of processing and commodity type, from 1988.

[iii]John W. Willesmith for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1998. Manual on bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

[iv]European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 2017. Facts about variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.  Available at: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/vcjd/facts

[v]Government Legislation. 1996. The Cattle Passports Order 1996. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1996/1686/body/made

[vi]British Cattle Movements Service. 2014. Cattle Passports: What to do if problems arise.  Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cattle-passports-what-to-do-if-problems-arise

[vii]European Commission. 2019. CAP explained – direct payments for farmers 2015-2020.Available at: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/541f0184-759e-11e7-b2f2-01aa75ed71a1

[viii]Welsh Government. 2019. Statistical First Release Farm Incomes in Wales, April 2018 to March 2019.

[ix]J. Clark. For Townsend Chartered Surveyors [date unknown] Welsh BPS Entitlements User Guide.Available at:  https://townsendcharteredsurveyors.co.uk/farm-quota/entitlements/welsh-bps-entitlements-user-guide/

[x]Welsh Government. [date unknown] Agriculture in Wales, 2019.

[xi]WHO. 2002. Understanding the BSE threat.

[xii]Animal & Plant Health Agency. 2019. Cattle: TSE surveillance statistics, general statistics on BSE cases in Great Britain.

[xiii]Unknown author and date. Charolais Breedplan – understanding EBVs, selection indexes and accuracy.Available at: http://abri.une.edu.au/online/pages/understanding_ebvs_char.htm

[xiv]NADIS Animal Health Skills. 2009. Beef Herd Fertility 2.

[xv]Meat Promotion Wales. 2014. Beef finishing systems – options for beef farms in Wales.

[xvi]Meat Promotion Wales [date unknown] Beef producers’ handbook “from gate to plate”.

Book Review: ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women is a novel written by Louisa May Alcott which has captured generations of readers as they read about the lives of the four March sisters as they grow up – although unremarkable their tale; their starkly contrasted personalities form instant connections with the reader.  I plead guilty to some serious spoilers ahead.

At the beginning of the novel these ‘Little Women’ are of extraordinary grain and each different to one another, with their willingness to live and be a force within the circles that they moved within..  

“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully, that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind”

Beth, the youngest, is a wallflower and her sweetness is adorable and yet completely relatable – sneaks into Mr Laurence’s house to play the piano quietly in order not to disturb although she had his permission to play. Yet, Beth’s force was in her peace of soul.  Beth had accepted that she was dying with such grace in a way that most of us cannot fathom today. Are are not ill and do not die in such ways.  We take drugs which fight when our bodies cannot, we are radiated, and scanned, and operated upon.  We do not have that certainty of death anymore, we fight until we cannot.

Jo is rather the opposite of little Beth.  She is opinionated and unafraid to step outside of the traditional feminine boundaries placed upon her – pays little attention to her attire and would gladly be found outside, roughing it with their wealthy neighbour Laurie.  It is Jo’s ‘demise’ that made me rather want to light a match and set the book up in flames.  Although I had just seen the film, it hurt quite a bit more when reading it. The younger Jo is wild and temperamental and these ‘faults’ are slowly moulded away to form a generic ‘angelic’ figure.  These traits are what make us human, what sets up apart from one another but the elder Jo has conformed to what was expected of her. The younger was quite against marriage and thought that such relationships were…perhaps ‘beneath her’ is not the right phrase, but was not in her vision of the future.  However, to a huge disappointment, Jo becomes like every other girl and is found to be a blushing desperate figure who marries Professor Bhaer. To further worsen the dire situation which has been thrush into the reader’s mind, ‘Mrs Bhaer’ opens a boarding school for boys– Jo, who would have thrived at being given the same opportunities as her male counterparts, could have excelled at University where she could have met other women of the same substance.  Mrs Bhaer becomes a wife and a mother and is lost.

Amy perhaps had one of the best attempts at freedom and independence, regardless of her attitude towards marriage.  Amy was unabashed in the knowledge that she wanted to marry for money, but not in a selfish way but in a way that if she married for money, she knew that she would have some sort of independence.  Money can in fact, buy happiness on occasion.  This is perhaps said better in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation which was released in 2019 in a conversation between Amy and Laurie:

“I‘m just a woman.  And as a woman, there’s no way for me to make my own money.  Not enough to earn a living, or to support my family. And if I had my own money, which I don’t, that money would belong to my husband the moment we got married. And if we had children, they would be his, not mine.  They would be his property.  So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is.  It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.”

I admired Amy’s persistence in trying out new art forms in an unabashed way that some individuals can try their hand at new things without fear of judgement.

“…talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing.”

I deeply admire this attitude of trying out new things but I also sympathise with her.  The more you try things there will be a part of you that hopes that there is something out there that you will be a natural at it and each new attempt brings a fresh wave of quiet disappointment that you, like everyone else, are just ordinary and must persevere in order to become great.

I don’t have much to say about Meg only perhaps that her situation is more comparable to ours. Meg remembers the luxury that the family once had and on occasion is swayed by it all by simple hedonism that plagues us today.  She allows herself to be dolled up in rich fabrics and her face powdered…only to be made felt ludicrous.  As a generation, we are shaped by social media, whether consciously or not.  We want the newest iPhone and a plain white t-shirt from a high-end brand just to show that we can afford it.  This toxicity is putting a rather large dent on our aim for authenticity (can’t believe that I’m referencing positive psychology but here we are). 

I have loved reading about the March family, especially about the early years of their lives, yet the ending ruined it for me and so I possibly won’t be re-reading it for quite a few years.  Or until I have sufficiently calmed down from the whole ordeal that perhaps I, like the March sister must resign and marry and bear children and die.

The Rowing Club Journal: Novice Edition, 2

Semester 1 has flown by and now it’s time to look forward to the next which is bound to be busier.  The Christmas workouts that they’ve given us have not been easy and I’m finding it difficult to row by myself – it’s just easier when you’re rowing in a line, going at the same rate as the rest of the team.

Since I have a placement within community pharmacy the first week back I won’t be able to go to training and so I’ve signed up to Puregym at Cardiff Queen Street. It’s such a nice gym and a good one to be a nosy parker at. I usually split my time between ERGs and the treadmill and since some of the treadmills face the ERGs its quite enlightening watching other. So many have poor technique – this coming from someone who’s done a total of 3 months of occasional rowing. Hunched over and swinging the handle over their knees each time as they complete sessions at a fast rate – but with poorer splits than I.  The restraint it took not to barge in and stop them.

The first ERG session back at 6:30am comprised of 2x20min sessions with only 2 minutes rest.  My splits were awful but I count it was a win since I managed to last the whole session. I can never seem to complete 20 minute sessions by myself in the gym – I get bored, by backside starts hurting from the uncomfortable plastic seats, or I start feeling like I’m dying.

My progress is improving at a snail’s pace and barely managed to scape off a couple of seconds out of my 2Km.  to be fair, I could have put a bit more energy into it but they had us do a 250m sprint right after at a rate of 35+.  I have never gone above rate 28 before. So obviously, I didn’t manage the 35 this time either, but managed a slow 32 and ripped the skin between my thumb and forefinger. The joys.

25/01 – Cycled down to the Bay under a steel coloured sky and was half hoping that they would cancel with the drizzle setting in and the water looking particularly choppy but no such luck. The last time I was out on the water we got quite a bit of rowing in and I was hoping that it would be the same this session, but this time we focused on technique. My hips locked and my hands and feet froze and the fact that we had to carry the dripping boat back above our heads didn’t help with the hypothermia that was quickly gripping me.  I must have looked it as well as one of our coaches, noticing my clattering teeth and involuntary shivers that wracked me, asked me if I had any spare clothes with me and that I didn’t need to help with getting the little speedboat in so I could go inside. I never take spare clothes with me, and this one instance I wish that I had.  The thin splash jacket (that cost me an arm and a leg) was doing nothing to keep out the biting wind.

I had hoped that I would be able to compete in at least one race this term but rowing is turning out to be quite expensive.  I would have needed to pay a top-up membership, a British Rowing racing membership, and pay for the race and transport fee.  Oh, and lets not forget the pricey kit that I bought last term, and the gym membership that I now had to start. One word of advice – ask about additional costs before joining ANY society.  It may narrow down your options if you’re like me and want to try everything.

Completed my first (ish) 5km.  I mean, we have done a few in the Tuesday morning sessions while doing our 2×20 minute sessions but they weren’t taking our splits and so it wasn’t a race. I didn’t do too bad, gaining a split of 2.28 and so it’s a definite win for me.  I was the last to finish (as usual) but I felt powerful after finishing, even though I must have looked incredibly weak with sweat dripping down my face, gasping for oxygen.

Evening ERGs have been moved down to the Bay and so it was a little dark going there and back.  As usual I finished my 6x500m sprints way after everyone else but it is nice to cycle there and back, giving me a break from work.  I did however, for the first time in years, fall off my bike.  Tried to mount the pavement and the bike slid sending me sprawling.  Scraped my chin quite badly and possibly bruised my ribs and cried all the way back. We all need one stupid accident to happen to us during our Uni life.  I guess that was mine.

Everything has been cancelled due to COVID-19.  

It has been an extraordinary year so far and have gained so much confidence in myself. My parents thought me foolish for trying out for rowing, believing that I was too weak and even though I didn’t have the opportunity to compete I have proved to myself that I can do it – maybe not to the same standard as the rest of the team but at least I tried and didn’t quit.

My only regret is that they didn’t have just a ‘casual’ team – it’s all about competitions and races which excludes many from even trying out a new sport.  It would have been wonderful to be out in the crisp weekend mornings, rowing on the Taff, and getting to know the team.

Book Review: ‘Forever and a Day’ by Anthony Horowitz

I have been a fan of James Bond since an age that was probably too young to watch the films, but it has taken until now for me to try the books, well, audiobooks.

Forever and a Day is a prequel to the Bond novels written by Anthony Horowitz which follows Bond’s first case in the double O section – to find out who killed his predecessor, and eliminate them.  Set in the French Riviera it takes us into the world of mobsters and drug dealing and 

ticks all the boxes of what you expect from Bond – gambling, a woman, and an epic car chase (when I say car chase, I mean a chase in a little bakery delivery van, similar to what I imagined as a grey Postman Pat’s van – epic regardless).

I was a little worried before starting on how the novel would portray the legendary ‘Bond Girls’ but Sixtine as she calls herself was no clueless object.  She is quite the force, in fact, and able to stand her ground both against Bond and others.  Drowned in danger and unafraid of it Horowitz managed to incorporate a peaceful and beautiful homely scene between her and Bond in the midst of the action.  Bond sets the table before they have dinner, they drink, and she tells him her tragic past. What I truly loved was how I spent most of the book unsure of which side she was on – was she on Bond’s side or was I about to receive a curveball and find that she would doublecross him?

The book definitely filled in the 007 void that occurs in the lengthy time between films and the narrator, Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot of Downton Abbey) brings a great voice to Bond, seductive and raspy at times.  Extremely disappointed that he isn’t the voice of following audiobooks in the series. There is a scene early on in the book (chapter 3) which I adore, where Bond introduces us to his houselady and how she was chosen for the job – how she saw right through his cover story of a job as a civil servant at an obscure office and stated so fact to his face. Goode acts this part out like everyother with a Scottish accent reminding me of Julie Walters’ character of Mrs Bird in Paddington.  My only wish was that I had hoped that she reappeared in the book, but alas, no.

Overall, chuffed to have discovered that the books live up to the legendary blockbuster films, and highly recommend.

Learning about Agriculture: 1. The Dairy

In the past 50 years dairy farming has changed dramatically; with widespread cross-sector advancements it has become a high-output production in order to minimize costs.  Gone is the era of wooden stools and hand-milking, swept aside by mechanization leading to automatic milking systems.

If there’s one thing I know about my dad is that he’s good with numbers. When we were a running dairy farm he was alwaysscribbling down a list of numbers on whatever piece of paper he could get his hands on and it wasn’t until I started this blog post that I quite realized just how much mathematics is involved in something like agriculture.  I tried my hand at attempting to figure out income produced from milk and well…I’m not quite sure how my fictional farm ended up with over quarter of a million from less than 150 cows.

The dairy industry is subject to dramatic changes in income which excludes farmers of financial stability. From looking at the variations in the farmgate price per liter (ppl) the small variations seem inconsequential, but when you add up all those liters, thousands of pounds are gained and lost each year.

In 2014, the farmgate ppl for milk was 31.59 pence[i]which resulted in a strong annual income of £77,000 in Wales in the 2013/14 financial year. The following year, the ppl had dropped to 24.46.  This 5p drop per liter resulted in an annual income of £33,000 in 2015/16. The volatile pricing is below farm costs leading to a decrease in dairy farms in the UK with Wales losing 666 dairy farms in the 10 year period of 2007-17[ii].

Processors buy milk from the farmer (farmgate price) depending on the milk composition – how much protein and butterfat it contains.  Therefore, farmers need to ensure that their feed is cost effective – cheap to buy or produce, and beneficial in milk composition consequence.

Buying feed is the largest cost to UK dairy farmers and so they have to do more than ‘grow grass’. Farmers have to make use of the land they have which means knowing it inside and out –and this thoroughness allows them to decide what to grow which will have the most impact on their livestock. Grazed grass costs the farmer 6p/kg while bought feed costs 25p/kg which is a large deduction from farm profits and from scouring the net I came across a rather different method for acquiring feed. I had never heard of this system before, but the ‘cut and carry’ system (which is where grass is cut daily and given to cows in the shed) has some compelling statistics for it use[iii].  At first I thought ‘This is a ridiculous method – just let the cattle out to graze!” Then I remembered something that I asked my dad when I was younger.  Some farmers will scatter animals in field, while other will put quite a fewin, and I asked which was better? I believed that it was the field with the fewer animals in as they have more room to graze but my dad said the opposite.  A higher cattle density means that you are able to rotate them around fields/sections of fields more often, meaning that they get a fresh supply of grass at more regular intervals, while the others will have to do with old trampled grass. A ‘cut and carry’ system would completely eliminate trampling of grass and maybe improve soil quality – when soil is tramped on with the heavy cattle hooves, it becomes compact, decreasing the amount of air spaces in the soil. Therefore, when it rains, the water can’t sink into the soil, increasing the likelihood of flooding. ADHB found that the system increased grass growth rates by 25%. Pretty good right?

The diet of a diary cow reflects in the milk composition produced.  As you may know, cows are ruminants which means that they ferment their food and re-chew the cud.  The bacteria break down the cud to produce volatile fatty acids (VFA) which is their major form of energy source (similar to glucose in humans).  VFA consists of three types of acids – acetic, propionic, and butyric.  The cow’s diet dictates the percentages of each acid e.g. high fiber produces acetic acid in the rumen, which is used in lipid synthesis therefore increasing butterfat percentage. One the other hand, starchy foods (grains) digested produce propionic acid, which increases milk protein[iv].  Both of these percentages are taken into account when determining farmgate milk prices.

Levels of SCC are also considered when determining prices. SCC stands for somatic cell count and is an indicator of milk quality.  Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the udder and there are two forms (a) subclinical which is where there are no outward symptoms of disease and so is detected through increase SCC counts and (b) clinical which is where symptoms can be seen such as changes in the milk (formation of clots due to aggregated WBCs) or inflammation of the udder[v].  As vet bills are hefty, farmers implement prevention strategies to reduce the risk of contacting and transmitting responsible bacteria. 

As a pharmacy student I am keen to know what drugs are used to treat mastitis, including the route of administration. Intramammary antimicrobials are the first line treatment option with differences in treatment between dry and lactating cows (turns out, cows do not produce milk all the time leading me to wonder how they are differentiated between in the dairy…note to self, ask dad).  Lactating cows are given high concentrations of antimicrobials in quick-release formulations with short withdrawal periods in order to reduce milk discarding (if a cow has been given antibiotics the milk cannot be sold to ensue that it is not present in the milk)[vi].  Looking through intramammary antimicrobials on the NOAH app you can quickly see the differences in dry and lactating formulations, with antimicrobials intended for dry cows are present in the milk for longer as compared to formulations for lactating cows.  Before now, I had my heart set on doing my final year research project on anythingto do with the brain, but now, exploring formulations intended for animals may be an interesting topic for me.  In pharmacy we are constantly reminded that drugs are only as effective as the patients allow them to be. Patient characteristics whether it be poor inhaler technique or poor compliance (intended or not) reflects on treatment success and disease progression.  Farmers are busy and so formulation scientists must take into account both animal and ‘carer’ factors, for example, three times daily administration of antimicrobials for who knows how long, to a couple dozen cows does not reflect ease of use.  Their entire day would be consumed with teat care.

I have a blog post planned on food production, and so I’ll leave this as a rather abrupt ending. However, what I will say is that this first post has taught me quite a bit in a very short time frame.  It’s taught me how scientific agriculture has become in order to stay afloat and how so many different factors need to be considered when running a farm.  It has also led me to wanting to know more about how we can tackle the problem of low milk prices and whether chain supermarkets should be doing more to protect British farming.  Food for thought for upcoming blogs in the series!

Until next time.

[i] United Kingdom Milk prices – Calendar Year Farmgate Milk Prices. DEFRA.

[ii] Welsh Government. 2019. Number of Farms by Size, Year and Farm Type.

[iii] AHDB. 2019. Cut and Carry, a best-practice guide. Available at: https://ahdb.org.uk/knowledge-library/cut-and-carry-a-best-practice-guide

[iv] Quinns. 2017. Factors that can Influence Milk Butterfat Levels at Grass. Available at: http://www.quinns.ie/index.php/factors-that-can-influence-milk-butterfat-levels-at-grass/

[v] Erskine J. (date unknown) Mastitis in Cattle. MSD Veterinary Manual. Available at: https://www.msdvetmanual.com/reproductive-system/mastitis-in-large-animals/mastitis-in-cattle

[vi] Wang, W et al. 2015. Development of intramammary delivery systems containing lasalocid for the treatment of bovine mastitis: impact of solubility improvement on safety, efficacy, and milk distribution in dairy cattle. Drug design, development, and therapy vol 9, pp.631-642.