Beef producers urged to combat liver fluke

Beef producers and farmers are being warned to brace themselves for an increased risk of liver fluke in cattle. The warning came from Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Meat Promotion Wales, which recommended that producers should plan for on-farm parasite management. 

Lynfa Davies, HCC’s technical development executive warned: “Late summer and early autumn are traditionally known as a high-risk period for liver fluke and a key time for Welsh beef farmers to be proactive in terms of liver fluke management.”

Liver fluke is a highly pathogenic flatworm parasite that can be found in cattle and in sheep. As well as production losses, it can also have huge economic impacts on the producers of livestock. HCC claimed that it could cost up to £30 per infected animal, while Moredun Research Institute highlighted that the illness has caused an estimated loss of £50 million in Scotland alone.

“The industry steering group for COWS (Control of Worms Sustainably) advises that implementing a parasite management plan this autumn will help farmers avoid such production and economic losses,” continued Davies.

According to the Food Standards Agency, one in five cattle livers examined at abattoirs over a 12 month period were damaged by fluke, resulting in a loss of returns for producers.

“The data highlights that of the 21% condemned livers, the highest incidents are being seen between September and May, with a significant peak in January,” noted Dr Andy Forbes, COWS’ technical representative and honorary professor at the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

“As it takes two to three months for the liver fluke to develop into adult fluke inside cattle, the peak found in livers in January is a likely result of infections acquired in the autumn.”

Forbes said there were two main reasons why cattle should be treated for fluke at, or after, housing.

“Firstly, removing fluke burdens will help cattle perform well over winter and achieve their potential in terms of growth and productivity. Secondly, if cattle are to graze on-farm the following year, effective flukicide treatment over winter will ensure that the cattle are not shedding fluke eggs in their dung onto pasture after turnout and will not contaminate pastures.”

Forbes advised that once producers had recognised why they were treating cattle, then the choice of when to treat animals would be based on different factors. This included whether resistance to any flukicide had been diagnosed on the site in the past, as well as the class of cattle being treated and consideration of meat and milk withdrawal periods.

Forbes also urged farmers to speak to their vet or SQP [suited qualified person] about enforcing a parasite management system that would best suit the establishment.

However, it is emphasised by COWS that when worming cattle, it is important that each dose is accurately calculated. “This is only possible if you know the exact weight of cattle. Judging by eye is notoriously difficult and inaccurate to ensure you use a weigh crate or a weigh band,” added Forbes.

“It is also important to check that dosing guns are calibrated properly and if necessary faulty equipment replaced to ensure treatments are accurate as well as cost effective. Check withdrawal periods and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the product data-sheet.”

Depending on the weather during the summer months, it could have an adverse impact of the risk of fluke during autumn. This is because snails that host the parasite tend to do well in dry conditions. “It may be that liver fluke challenge is lower in some parts of the country, but if it was warm and wet in June and July, the challenge could be high.”

Liver fluke can also be common in sheep; however there are differences in managing the treatment for the two different animals.

“There is no one size fits all approach to managing liver fluke on-farm, but implementing a parasite management plan based on recommendations from your vet or SQP, and following the COWS best practice guidelines will help reduce the economic and production losses associated with liver fluke,” concluded Forbes.

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