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The liver fluke fasciola hepatica is an important parasite of cattle and sheep.

In cattle, it can cause production losses even at subclinical infection levels and reduce the profitability of slaughter animals and dairy cows.

The presence of even 10 liver fluke has been shown to increase the slaughter date up to 10 days, which can have a significant impact on profitability1.

Housing is a great time to assess if animals are infected and allow you to use treatments if necessary to avoid production losses during the winter.

Sioned Timothy, from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, explains the steps to follow.

The liver fluke infects grazing animals during the grazing season.

The infectious cyst stage of the parasite is present on the grass and ingested.

Once inside the animal, the cysts open and the immature fluke continues to develop as it migrates through the animal to the liver and bile ducts, where once mature, they start to lay eggs which are excreted in the feces.

The liver fluke requires an intermediate host, the mud snail, to complete its life cycle.

These tiny snails are almost impossible to see with the naked eye and are found in areas of muddy, wet, undisturbed soil.

The liver fluke was once considered a parasite of concern in more humid areas and to the west.

However, cattle movements and a generally warmer and more humid climate have led to liver fluke disease affecting cattle across the UK.

Prevention

The distribution of mud snails on a farm will affect the likelihood of liver fluke infecting cattle and sheep.

A farm with only a small area or an inconspicuous area of ​​mud snail habitat may be able to fence off that area to reduce the risk of infection.

However, on many farms this will not be practical, especially if the farm is in a generally wetter area or the soil type lends itself to being more swampy.

Fluke infection peaks near the end of the grazing season and cattle can enter winter housing with a liver fluke parasite load at various stages of maturity.

Resistance to anthelmintics is increasing, which means that it is essential that we use all dewormers responsibly and sustainably to maintain their effectiveness for the future.

If the risk assessment of the pasture and the farm environment indicates that liver fluke may be present on the farm, diagnostic tests can be used to indicate if animals are actually infected and help support decisions. treatment.

The fecal egg count (FEC) can help identify the presence of adult laying fluke in a group of animals.

The eggs are discarded sporadically, so while FECs are useful in giving an indication of the presence of the parasite, false negatives can occur in individual animals.

Sampling more than one animal will therefore provide a better assessment of the condition of the group.

A FEC will also not identify an early fluke infection, as the eggs are not shed by the immature stages of the parasite.

Bulk milk tank tests can detect antibodies against liver fluke, which is useful for dairy herds, while blood serum tests can assess exposure in individual animals.

Analysis of milk or blood samples from a group of spring-born calves can indicate if and when exposure to liver fluke has occurred, and help guide treatment schedules.

Slaughterhouse reports are another useful way to understand the dynamics of infection on the farm and can provide a good indication of the presence of fluke in the herd.

They can also offer insight into the effectiveness of liver fluke control strategies already in place.

Cattle and sheep do not develop immunity to liver fluke and, unlike sheep, where immature liver fluke can cause sudden death, in cattle it is the mature stage of oviposition that causes the greater loss of production.

This stage is generally the most common at the time of accommodation.

During the winter, this means that infected cattle will need more food to maintain their weight, and despite adequate nutrition, they may lose weight or not meet growth or yield goals, and usually fail. not prosper.

Housing treatment

If diagnostic tests and risk assessments indicate the presence of fluke, treatment may be advised to protect your flock’s production and break the liver fluke life cycle by preventing the eggs from reaching the pasture in the past. spring.

While previous recommendations suggested waiting several weeks after housing to ensure any liver fluke present is mature, this will increase the time cattle lose productivity.

When treatment is indicated, cattle should be treated as soon as possible after housing.

No treatment is 100 percent effective, so other diagnostic tests, such as FECs later in the winter, may be helpful in determining if a second treatment is needed before the sample is taken.


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