Vet Viewpoint: Liver fluke hits dairy herd in Northern Ireland

XL Vets give a round-up of current animal health issues across the country.

This month, dairy farmers in Northern Ireland are being hit by clinical fluke infection in their herds causing milk losses of between 4-5 litres.

Meanwhile in the South West and Scotland attention turns to reviewing reproductive performance and culling unproductive cows.

Get advice on the signs to look out for if you suspect lungworm or liver fluke is a problem within your herd.

Reproductive performance

Keith Cutler, Endell Veterinary Group, Wiltshire

We look after several large suckler herds in the central South of the country on very traditional lines. Spring calving requires bulls to be put with the cows in late May or early June for three months.

See also: Four steps to ensure suckler cow profitability

We are now PD-ing as fast as we can! This gives an ideal opportunity to monitor cow condition going into the winter.

Weaning according to cow condition rather than at a set time each year might be a better way of managing the herd.

It also gives an ideal opportunity to review reproductive performance.

If the bulling period has been limited to 12 weeks and you have more than 5% empty cows and fewer than 50% of cows due to calve in the first three weeks of the calving period then an investigation into how performance might be improved is warranted.

Liver fluke, medicines and pneumonia

Steve Borsberry, 608 Farm and Equine Veterinary Surgeons, Warwickshire

We’ve recently been advising a targeted approach to liver fluke. Before reaching for the nearest product, always consider which one is the most appropriate for the stage of fluke you wish to treat, as only one treats juvenile stages.

With selective dry cow therapy, some clients are using the California Milk Test to identify individual quarters that would benefit from antibiotics, even though the average cell count of the four quarters could be 100,000.

Improved ventilation is an important factor in reducing pneumonia and once sheds are full, it is worthwhile checking the ventilation using smoke bombs.

Suckled heifers can become pregnant as young as five months. It would be sensible to discuss with your vet the various treatments to prevent unwanted calvings.

Johne’s and TB testing

Andy Cant, Northvet Veterinary Group, Orkney

The mainstay of our work is spring calving beef cows. Now the cattle are again housed we are kept busy with routine pregnancy diagnosis, Johne’s herd tests and TB testing.

Keeping an unproductive empty beef cow over the winter is an expensive business, so the economic argument for getting them PD-ed is compelling.

Not only does getting them away improve your cashflow, it allows you to plan what numbers of replacements you may want and if it’s too many, to look into the reasons.

You must always keep on top of infectious disease and Johne’s is well known as a tricky disease to deal with, especially in a beef-suckler herd.

However, we find annual herd tests for Johne’s serology, along with management changes is making progress and prevalence of the disease is decreasing.

As for TB testing, Scotland is TB Free, we are on four yearly testing and when we look at the situation down in England and Wales we just thank our lucky stars!

Lungworm and liver fluke

Philip Abernethy – Parklands Veterinary Group, Northern Ireland

The 2016 grazing season has presented many challenges for dairy farmers in Northern Ireland. Grass on the whole has been plentiful with a warm and wet summer.

A dry and bright autumn has allowed extended grazing well into November in many areas. This has been welcomed particularly with the sluggish rises in milk prices.

However, our in-house lab has identified a sharp rise in both lungworm and liver fluke this season.

In the last two weeks I have identified 10 separate dairy farms with active clinical liver fluke infection. The most common observation has been lost milk with clients reporting cows at grass 4-5 litres behind expected yields.

Other signs have included loose dung, dry coats, bottle jaw and reduced fertility. Unfortunately, a specific zero milk flukicide is no longer available for cattle in the UK.

Therefore, if you suspect liver fluke on your unit, seek advice from your vet to draw up a suitable diagnostic, treatment and prevention plan for your herd.