A better way to approach liver fluke

Livestock farmers have to take steps to protect animals from parasites. Fasciola hepatica worms are among the worst, causing liver fluke in sheep and cattle. An infestation will cause acute disease immediately. It can then lead to sub-acute disease and eventually chronic disease in some cases. The latter can result in sudden deaths. Farmers need to tackle the issue to maximise animal health and reduce losses.

A new study

There was recently a new study on the Scottish island Islay as part of the RHASS Presidential Initiative (PI). A collaboration between farmers, Moredun Research Institute, Elanco Animal Health, and the RSPB wanted to find a new way to improve the health of herds. It advises the use of a “test, don’t guess” approach.

Previously what most farmers would do is treat herds periodically with flukicide. This could be as often as every six weeks. The goal was to kill the worms and protect the health of animals.

However, there are big flaws here. Overuse of the flukicides will build tolerance in sheep and cattle. That can cause big problems for animal health because pastures will get overrun with worms that are highly resistant. Losses will be much higher when this happens and the land won’t be usable as pasture.

Over-reliance on flukicides can also damage soil and means big costs for the farmers. The first is particularly bad, especially at a time when there is more focus on protecting the environment.

The study suggests a better option than blindly applying flukicide at different times of the year. Instead, farmers should rely on testing faecal egg counts. It can provide a better idea of when and where animals pick up parasites. You can narrow this down to each particular pasture. They can then make more informed decisions about when to treat animals.

Pasture conditions

One of the most important things here is to keep an eye on pasture conditions. They can have a huge impact on animal health.

Large parts of the UK can have a high risk of Fasciola hepatica and liver fluke. The worms favour a mild, wet climate. As a result, pastures tend to have the highest parasite loadings in spring. Levels can come down in summer and autumn because it is too warm and dry. Testing is important at all times of the year though.

It is also important to keep environmental changes in mind. The traditional seasonality of different parasites can change due to the climate. Levels may ramp up sooner during wetter, milder winters. They may also fall more during hotter summers.

Effective treatments

The best solution is to test conditions, treat when necessary, and test again afterwards to check how effective the flukicide was. This is better than blind testing periodically.

In addition, farmers should not use the same flukicides time and again. They should rotate to ensure animals don’t build tolerances to specific products.

Talk to us about animal health

JS Hubbuck Ltd knows how vital it is to maximise the health of animals in the UK. It is crucial to protecting supplies and building food security. The right approach for testing and treating livestock for parasites can benefit all sides. Farmers, animals, consumers, and the environment will all get rewards.

If you need any help with animal health, we have some excellent products. This includes wormers and more. You can contact us for advice about any of them.