New test will improve liver fluke control in cattle

A new test to screen herds for liver fluke has been developed, which could help to reduce the risk of cattle developing immunity to existing deworming treatments.

Cattle become infected with liver fluke by eating grass contaminated with cysts containing fluke eggs, shed from mud snails found in damp, marshy areas of pasture. Infection is very common and even low levels can lead to serious losses in production. It can extend time to slaughter and reduce milk yield by up to 15 per cent. The wet weather during late summer is likely to increase the risk of liver fluke infection for cattle on many farms this year.

The test involves the collection of faecal samples from a number of cattle in the herd which is then analysed by a lab and a single count reported. The new method was created as part of a joint project involving AHDB and led by the University of Liverpool with the Moredun Research Institute.

Mary Vickers, AHDB Beef & Lamb Senior Scientist, said: “Controlling liver fluke is a difficult task, particularly because of emerging resistance to some of the flukicidal products used to treat cattle and sheep. Looking to the future, reliance on deworming treatments alone is likely to be unsustainable so treatment informed by diagnosis is crucial for disease control.”

The new testing method known as ‘composite faecal egg counting’ is suitable for both dairy and beef cattle and allows herds to be screened for infection, with targeted treatment administered as required.

This composite test was found to be at least as good as other diagnostic methods, such as the copro-antigen ELISA, for identifying infected herds. To save time testing in labs in the future, the project team is working to develop pen-side tests, which farmers and vets can use to give diagnostic results straight away, allowing immediate, targeted treatments.

The project was funded by a large multi-centre grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in partnership with AHDB, Hybu Cyg Cymru (HCC), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Agrisearch Northern Ireland to improve the control of liver fluke infection in beef and dairy cattle.

For AHDB, improving animal health and welfare while reducing costs and driving uptake of best practice of on-farm medicine use is a key area of activity in AHDB Beef & Lamb’s 2017-2020 ‘Inspiring success’ strategy.’

More information can be found in the BRP manual Controlling Worms and Liver Fluke for Better Returns.

To download the press release click here.