Dealing with liver fluke
Farmers should treat their cattle for liver fluke at housing, to ensure maximum return from expensive winter feed.
The advice comes from Merial Animal Health's vet, Fiona MacGillivray, who said: "As liver fluke is often a sub-clinical disease in cattle, many farmers may not realise its effects. But liver fluke depresses appetite, and can also impair the body's ability to convert feed to body mass.
"Liver fluke infestation in growing cattle has been shown to reduce live-weight gain by up to 1.2 kilos per week. The consequence of this is an increased feed requirement and a longer time to finish animals.
"Indeed, last year Eblex calculated that every case of liver fluke was costing producers between £25 and £30 per head."
According to latest figures from the Food Standards Agency, in 2011 almost one in four cattle sent to slaughterhouses in Britain had their livers condemned as a result of damage caused by liver fluke infection.
Indeed the milder, wetter weather of recent years has increased the geographical spread, risk period and incidence of liver fluke.
And the exceptionally high rainfall of 2012 is likely to result in a very high fluke challenge this autumn and winter.
This, coupled with high feed costs, meant it was even more important for farmers to treat their animals.
In terms of the precise timing of treatment, Mrs MacGillivray said: "Studies have shown that, in cattle, it is adult-stage fluke that have the greatest impact on productivity, reducing feed intake of cattle by 15%, compared to 5% for the early immature stages, up to six weeks after infection.
"In the past, much advice has centred on postponing treatment for several weeks after cattle have been housed, to ensure that fluke have had time to mature into adults.
But research from Merial Animal Health has shown that 97% of fluke in the livers of cattle at housing are already at late-immature or adult stages.
"This further supports the view that it is best practice to treat cattle at housing rather than waiting for a few weeks, during which time animals would remain subjected to the harmful effects of liver fluke."
Mrs MacGillivray added: "Feed costs remain high and so it makes sense to ensure that herds are in the best possible condition to benefit from their nutrition.
The risk from liver fluke infection is likely to be high this year and the parasite can seriously affect growth and profits. Dealing with liver fluke at housing makes financial sense."
Farming News Daily Supporting British Pig Farmers