30 June 2000

Leaving egg counting to experts

By Robert Davies

PLACING faecal egg counters on three technology transfer project farms has stimulated interest in more effective worm control.

But Signet consultant Julie Jones, facilitator for work on one – Safn y Coed, Llangurig, Powys – and the activities of the linked 15 farmer community group, admits that members are not finding it easy to use the kit supplied.

"At present it is better to get members to bring samples to meetings and let an expert use the FecPac kit to do the egg counting, and assess the level of risk and how effective treatments have been."

At a Safn y Coed group meeting held at Tony Daviess Henfron Farm in the Elan Valley the expert was Kirsty Howells, who is researching resistance to intestinal worms at the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies.

"Even after reading the instructions and watching a video many farmers find it difficult to prepare samples and use the monocular microscope," said Mrs Howells.

"But there is strong interest inside and outside the group, and the good news is that farmers will soon be able to send their samples for assessment by a new low cost laboratory service."

This would be offered by Cymru Breeding Services, the agency established by the Welsh Sheep Strategy to give farmers access to semen collection, AI, flushing and embryo transfer facilities.

"We hope that Welsh Sheep Strategy sponsorship will let breeders involved in the strategy get a faecal sample analysed for less than £2 compared with the £5-£6 charged by some laboratories."

Tony Davies, who has spent a lot of time trying to use the FecPac kit, claimed that the squeeze on sheep production margins had made everyone more conscious of the need to rationalise the use of expensive drugs.

"Too often we lose performance by not drenching when we should, or waste money by treating sheep when it is not necessary. By using the kit, or sending samples away, it should be possible to stop working blindly. This means we can control worms more effectively, and get better value for the money we spend on treatments."

Ms Jones said the efficient use of anthelmintics was just one facet of the whole farm approach of the technology transfer initiative, which was funded by the Welsh Sheep Strategy and managed by MLC. The three focus farmers had agreed to allow their systems and figures to be discussed openly by the linked groups. Ideas and opinions were freely exchanged, and experts from other agencies contributed views on how technology could improve their flocks, grassland management and margins.

"Members of this group are already discussing the possibility of jointly buying requisites and co-operative marketing."

Open days are planned on the three focus farms. The first is at Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, Newtown, Powys, on Sept 5. Cilgoed, Derwen, Denbighshire, plays host the next day, and Safn y Coed on Sept 7. &#42

EGG COUNTING

&#8226 Difficult for farmers.

&#8226 Low-cost lab service proposed.

&#8226 May reduce wormer use.

WIRS researcher Kirsty Howells demonstrates using the FecPac kit for egg counting: Many farmers have found it difficult to use, she says.

It may be best to allow experts to use FecPac kits, adds Julie Jones (Inset).