2013-04-24 xml
NSA Takes Steps to Address Liver Fluke Losses

The rise of liver fluke incidence throughout the UK has prompted NSA to bring animal health experts and Government officials together to discuss how farmers might be able to work with the constant pressure going forward.

The initiative is being led by George Milne, NSA Scotland Development Officer, who has firsthand experience of the consequences of liver fluke in his flock since last summer, despite living on the east side of the UK, where the disease has rarely been seen in the past. The fluke parasite, which relies on a mud snail as an intermediate host, infects both cattle and sheep but is particularly severe in sheep, causing weight loss and sometimes death when ingested at grazing.

Ewe & Lambs

photo © Jennifer MacKenzie

Yesterday afternoon (23rd April) Mr Milne hosted a visit to Kinaldy Farm by St Andrews, Fife. He and Sybil MacPherson, NSA Scotland Chairman, were joined by Scottish Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas, Philip Skuce from Moredun, Elspeth Scott of SAC Counsulting - Veterinary Sevices and Mr Milne’s own vet Richard Mauritzen of Parkside Vets.

Mr Milne says: “I was pleased to host the visit to discuss the devastating problems and losses from fluke, which appears to be a result of and carry over from last year’s extremely wet summer, compounded by an unseasonably cold spring and very poor grass growth since. Those farmers familiar with fluke are struggling more than usual and it is also extremely bad in areas which have not been affected in the past. I regularly speak to farmers who have serious concerns about how they will manage liver fluke in the future. The parasite can develop resistance to drugs over time and it’s vital we increase our understanding and widen the options we have to tackle the problem.”

When visiting Kinaldy, Mrs Voas said it was important for all farmers to investigate their own situation thoroughly, in discussion with their vet, who would know the farm circumstances. This would enable quick action and appropriate treatment. Dr Elspeth Scott added that regular faecal sampling before and after treatment was vital, so farmers knew exactly what they were treating beforehand and could check the effectiveness of treatment afterwards. In severe cases, she also recommended taking a freshly dead or representative live sheep to one of the disease surveillance centers run by SAC Consulting, or an animal health professional, for a full examination/post-mortem to provide vital information on health issues on the farm.

Dr Skuce stressed that correct product choice and timing of treatment were vital for effective fluke control – and added it was also important to consider other options than relying exclusively on drugs, such as improving drainage where possible, rotating grazing to allow for clean pasture and fencing off boggy areas where practical, to reduce snail habitats on farms and prevent stock accessing such areas. However, Mr Mauritzen suggested liver fluke was now so widespread that many farmers were seeing problems on ground with no obvious wet and boggy areas.

Widening the discussion to alternative management options, Mr Milne requested clarification about techniques to kill the intermediary mud snail host on pasture, thereby breaking the lifecycle of the liver fluke parasite. When it was explained there were strict limitations on what farmers could currently do, Mr Milne said it was imperative that other ways of combating fluke were found.

He continues: “Vegetable growers are allowed to use biological controls for pest control and I remain convinced that other management options must be possible for sheep and beef farmers. If we continue to see wet summers this problem is just going to get worse and worse, so we must find additional solutions as a matter of urgency.”

Mr Milne represents the NSA throughout the UK in calling for urgent research to be carried out to investigate practical alternatives, both in the immediate and longer term.


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