Timing and testing is key to fluke control

BORDERS farmers are being warned to watch out for high rates of liver fluke.

Moredun Research Institute’s Philip Skuce, speaking to producers at the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farm, Hundleshope near Peebles, said timing and testing are key to controlling infestation.

With a high rate of re-infection and some instances of flukicide resistance being reported, farmers need to be aware of fluke on the farm and treat it accordingly, he said.

The disease traditionally affected livestock in the west, but increased stocking densities, more wet areas on farms and one of the wettest summers on record have resulted in fluke becoming a major concern to cattle and sheep producers in the Borders and elsewhere.

Host farmers Kate and Ed Rowell run a 75-strong suckler herd of Limousin, British Blue and Simmental cross cows, and 750 ewes (400 Scotch mule and Texel cross ewes and 350 Blackface) in partnership with Mrs Rowell’s parents, Ann and John Brown, on the 1,800-acre property.

Tests on stock since the monitor farm’s inaugural visit in November showed there was a fluke problem

A QMS spokesperson said: “The sheep had all received a fluke drench and blood samples had been taken and tested for anti-fluke antibodies, which had been found to be present. As the antibodies persist for around 10 months, it was difficult however to determine if the infection was new or had been carried over since last season.

“The challenge for the community group of around 40 farmers was to come up with a suitable programme which the host farmers, Kate and Ed Rowley, could put in place as soon as possible to tackle the problem. This initiated an exchange of ideas within the group.”

Liver fluke eggs in dung hatch and find mud snail hosts. These leave infectious fluke cysts on grass which is eaten by livestock. After hatching in the intestine, flukes go to the liver to lay eggs which can cause haemorrhage and death. It is also the start of the fluke’s six-month cycle again.

Dr Skuce said flukicidal products containing triclabendazole (TCBZ) are the most effective way of killing the majority of immature flukes and are the most effective method of protecting stock in the autumn. But it is important to determine what stage of fluke is present in stock at risk and treat accordingly, he said.

Animals could be moved to drier ground, to stubble or brassica growing fields or indoors to help reduce the potential for re-infection. Drenching again in the spring would kill any adult fluke.

The QMS spokesperson said: “Fluke often goes undetected in cattle, but is responsible for considerable sub-clinical disease and production loss.

“Dr Skuce also mentioned the recent emergence of rumen fluke in Scotland. This has been linked to flooding events and has been reported to cause disease and death in young stock, both sheep and cattle.”

Meanwhile the blood analysis results also showed a lack of selenium in both the hill and the cross ewes.

The QMS spokesperson said: “Although the ewes were in good condition, this was most likely a result of poor uptake from the grass, again due to the wet season.

“A sample group had been dosed with a selenium/copper/cobalt bolus and a further assessment would be made of both groups at scanning time with results compared at that point.”

The next meeting of the community group of farmers will be held towards the end of February.

For more information on fluke control visit www.scops.org.uk.