Fight fluke now and you'll save in the long run
Herd health is here to stay in veterinary medicine and, as practitioners, we have had to learn to adjust accordingly. I experienced this first-hand when I was out at a fattening unit last week with no animals in need of hands-on veterinary treatment.
The query was whether we should dose the cattle as they enter the feed lot or whether we should save the money and leave them be. That's a question every farmer can ask this autumn.
In answer, we can immediately say that if parasites are present, then a dose is called for.
To tease out the query, a scientific paper was written on this issue not too long ago. A group of fattening cattle were tested for fluke (faecal egg count) and the group was split into two lots; one lot was treated and the other was not. The findings at the end of the season were remarkable. The increase in weight gain and profit on the finished animal was four times greater than the extra outlay on the medicine. The untreated group gave a poorer output, whereas the treated group recouped the cost of the dose more than four times over in comparison to the untreated group's returns. This was specifically for fluke and did not take stomach worms into account.
As fluke is an increasing problem on Irish farms over recent years, we should consider a few aspects of the disease this month:
- Up to 12pc of cattle slaughtered at the factory have livers that are condemned due to liver fluke. In the autumn, fluke infestation is at its peak and the figure can rise up to 33pc in any single group.
- A lot of cattle with fluke infestation may show no visible, clinical signs. The clinical signs of severe fluke include swollen head, neck and chest area, thin, scouring and ill-thriving cattle. Like an iceberg, the greatest effect is happening below the surface. It's the loss of productivity with no outward visible signs that causes the true losses caused by fluke.
- The liver is probably the hardest working organ in the body with the widest workload of them all. It is involved in formulating the basic building blocks for every cell and tissue in our beef cattle. Any parasite that hits the liver will cause an immediate drain on the perfect working order of the fattening animal.
- Liver fluke infestation is at its greatest in the autumn because the developing stages are slowly building up in pastures over the summer months. Wet and warm weather is required to allow this parasite to grow to its maximum potential. As summers have been warmer and rainfall has been abundant over the past few years, we now see a heavier than ever level of pasture contamination on Irish farms.
- Control of fluke involves an understanding of the life cycle. This parasite needs a land snail lymnaea truncatula in order for it to complete its life cycle. The snail lives in wetter lands and control of the snail will kill off the supply of the infective stage of fluke.
- Faecal egg count is the easiest way to find evidence of fluke in beef cattle. Your vet will have the sample analysed in the practice laboratory or at an external laboratory, and the results will determine the advice given in your herd health plan. Sometimes we dose immediately at housing, using a flukicide that is active against the immature early stages and the mature stages of fluke. In other cases we wait four to six weeks and use a product that kills only mature stages of the parasite. Back to your vet and herd health plan for best advice for your own individual farm.
To conclude, fluke (like any parasite) is slowly sapping the goodness out of our cattle. Most of the effect of the disease is hidden from view and the big financial hit is not seen until kill-out at factory, or poor prices at the sales.
It is not good policy to dose only when we see signs and not to dose if we don't see any signs.
Set a programme in place that targets the life cycle, at the correct stage, to reduce the parasite at every level. Control the snail. Reduce pasture levels with a focused programme that uses the correct medicine, depending on the time of year.