Alan McNaughton of McIntosh Donald, part of the Vion Food Group, Portlethen, Aberdeen, said: "Ox liver is a straight-off loss if it can't be sold. At £1.50 a liver, while it's a relatively small value, it mounts up across a number of animals. For example, out of the 80,000 or so animals per annum going through our abattoir, approximately 24,000 will have condemned livers that cost us a significant £36,000 in lost margin! Of course, fluke infestation also has an impact on the finished weight of the animal. The cost of slaughter is the same, irrespective of this finished weight, so a heavier animal coming in at R3L or better, with a clean liver, is always going to be more efficient both for the abattoir and the farmer."
Fluke-infested livers, which cannot even be used for pet food, either have to be rendered or disposed of. McNaughton added: "Waste charges of liver disposal come in at around £70 a tonne. At the moment, the abattoir sector is bearing this loss - but on a strict commercial basis when the market comes under pressure, the industry will have no option but to consider imposing a penalty on farmers who deliver stock with defaulting organs, which includes fluke-infested livers."
McNaughton explained: "We have been tracking the levels of fluke-affected livers for a few years now, and have started routinely feeding back information to farmers who regularly submit infected animals, so they can be aware of the issue. However, the concern is that since we have been tracking liver fluke-damaged livers the levels are not improving enough."
He believes the prevalence of fluke, particularly in cattle, is often underestimated by farmers, which can have a major impact not only on abattoir profits, but also on herd productivity if animals are not treated. "Fluke infestation in cattle can prejudice daily weight gain by depressing appetite and reducing feed intake by up to 11% compared with treated cattle. This can compromise the profitability of the beef finishing enterprise, because of the extended period required to reach finishing weight, the increased feed required and a reduction in the eventual value of the animal when it reaches the abattoir. Data shows that costs to the cattle farming industry alone are around £23m year or £20 per infected animal."
In terms of available treatments, farmers can choose to use a straight fluke product, such as Trodax® Injection. Alternatively, they can use a combination endectocide product, such as Ivomec® Super, which, as well as controlling fluke, also controls damaging gutworms and external parasites.
Lynda Maris, product manager for Merial Animal Health, said; "At this time of the year, once animals are removed from pasture at housing, there is no further exposure to fluke infection, so a fluke treatment at housing will serve to reduce fluke burdens, minimise the damage inflicted by the parasite and maximise the returns from winter feed. Furthermore a fluke treatment at housing will also reduce pasture re-infection when cattle are turned out in the spring."