Farmers advised to test for fluke before treating this spring

Animal health experts are urging livestock farmers to test for liver fluke in sheep and cattle to assess whether treatment is necessary.

The reminder comes despite an exceptionally dry 2018, which has kept liver fluke levels and incidents of chronic fluke infections lower than previous years.

However, experts warn farmers should not assume that no action is needed this spring. 

Professor Diana Williams, of the infection biology department at University of Liverpool, warned farmers that pockets of fluke still exist in a drought because livestock are forced to gather and graze for fresh grass in wetter parts of the field near ditches and watercourses.

A simple faecal egg count (FEC) with samples taken from 10 animals within a management group is the prescribed course of action for flocks and herds this spring.

However, before turning to the dosing gun, experts are calling on farmers to assess the need to treat, so anthelmintic resistance is not unnecessarily increased. 

This will determine if anthelmintics are required, which at this time of year should be oxyclozanide or albendazole to target adult fluke.

Cattle farmers yet to turn out are being urged to test before the end of the housing period, especially those farms that have not treated cattle in the autumn. 

See also: How farmers can treat and manage liver fluke

10 tips on taking faecal samples

  1. Collect fresh faeces
  2. Four heaped dessert spoons (40g) per animal for cattle
  3. At least 10 individual samples from each management group (or 10% for larger flocks) for sheep
  4. Sample from at least three areas of the dung pat for cattle
  5. Samples must be random
  6. Make sure you don’t mix ewe and lamb samples when testing unweaned lambs
  7. Place samples in individual zipper storage bags or plastic pots with screw lids and label them – make sure you squeeze air out of bags and fill pots to the brim
  8. Give as much information as possible with sample, such as animal condition, scouring information, wormer treatments, name of products and dates of treatments
  9. Submit samples to vet. If there is a delay in getting samples to the lab, store in a fridge at 4C
  10. Try to get the sample to the practice or laboratory within 48 hours to stop eggs hatching

Action needed

Prof Williams added: “These areas are where snails and, therefore, liver fluke larvae are also likely to be concentrated and why it is important to consider testing stock now, before turnout.”

Lower than normal

Independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings said that reports across the UK showed that liver fluke challenge last autumn was “lower than normal”.

Speaking on behalf of Scops (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep), she said: “Experts from around the country agree the key action this spring is to test to see if there are adult fluke present.

“If they are, treatment is needed to minimise the number of liver fluke eggs deposited on pastures this spring and reduce infection levels later in the summer.”