Animal behaviour can offer parasite infection clues

Health challenges such as worm infestations can often cause a loss in performance and threat to animal welfare. But more worryingly subclinical cases can sometimes go undetected.

So how great would it be if there was an easy way to make an early diagnosis of worm infestation in beef cattle? While faecal egg counts and planned anthelmintic use may be tools readily available in the fight against worms, looking closely at cow behaviour could also be useful.

Speaking at the British Society of Animal Science Conference in Nottingham, Ollie Szyszka, of Newcastle University, explained how the behaviour of an animal could be used an as early indicator to infection.

Her research found that when animals were infested with the worm ostertagia, behavioural and postural changes were seen.

“Three weeks after infection had taken place there were more lying bouts and standing bouts seen in the parasite infected group. The parasitised animals also showed lower levels of activity compared to those without worms and also had a lower weight gain,” she said.

“The changes in behaviour could be as a result of lethargy or perhaps as a consequence of anorexia,” explained Miss Szyszka.

However, changes in behaviour following infection were rapidly reversed within a week after the challenged bulls were treated with an anthelmintic, demonstrating animals infected with parasites do show a change in behaviour.

Beef research highlights

  • Feeding Alkagrain to 300kg intensively finished bulls can help improve financial performance and be used as a complete concentrate feed for intensively fed cattle. (Harper Adams University College)

  • Compensatory growth in early and late maturing steers had a small effect on muscle quality, with meat from animals experiencing compensatory growth slightly tougher. (Teagasc, Ireland) 

  •  Beef cattle exiting a crush very quickly are likely to be more active in the home pen. So the flight speed of an animal could be indicative of level of activity and behaviour in the home pen. (Scottish Agricultural College)