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Sheep Survey Uncovers "Worrying" Farmer Liver Fluke Ignorance

01 September 2015

UK – Leading sheep health experts are concerned about a lack of knowledge about liver fluke and the products available to control it on many sheep farms in Britain and Ireland.

They say the results of a survey of 220 sheep farms demonstrate that many farmers do not understand the liver fluke life cycle, reducing the timing of treatments to mere "guesswork".

This view was shared by veterinary surgeon Matt Colston of Elanco, the organisation that delivered the survey, who said the level of farmer knowledge was not as good as exepected. 

Speaking at the launch of the Farming Against Liver Fluke action group on Thursday 27 August, he underlined the importance of explaining the role of different actives on fluke stages.

“I am not surprised by the confusion concerning stages of fluke targeted by different actives,” he said. “There seems to be an assumption that all flukicides will treat all stages of fluke, which is not the case.”

He stressed there was “lots more work to do” to educate the industry.

Out of the survey respondents from across the UK and Ireland, 80 per cent were oblivious to the fact that liver fluke required an intermediate host in its life cycle and a third wrongly thought flukicides were preventative, not curative.

The study found that a further;

  • 14 per cent treat when they see clinical signs
  • 14 per cent treat on previous experience
  • 10 per cent treat on advice from animal health adviser

All the motivations for treating in the survey hinted at “historical or habitual” treatment, based on a lack of understanding of the brand and active ingredient, added Mr Colston.

“Of farmers surveyed, 33 per cent were using flukicides as preventative; however, the majority of treatments for liver fluke are curative,” said leading liver fluke expert Dr Phillip Skuce of Moredun.

He said it is more important farmers understand actives than brands.

“Personally, I would prefer farmers to know what is in the bottle rather than on the bottle and what impact this has for the flock,” said Dr Skuce.

“We can talk about actives but it must relate to what they are dealing with every day, providing them with a simple solution to this complex problem.”

Looking ahead, sheep health expert Fiona Lovatt said the industry must be aware that faults of habit and medicine cost are driving fluke treatment and not health plans.

She said: “All farms should have a flock health plan which should include a strategic approach to testing and treatment at set times of the year as agreed with your vet or suitably qualified person.”

But there were some positive results from the survey, such as the 52 per cent of farmers actively seeking advice from their vet or SQP.

And in terms of awareness of resistance issues, 63 per cent said they rotated their flukicides.

However, Mrs Lovatt caveated that only 8 per cent correctly choose active ingredients for the specific time of year.

“Over half of farmers seem to have understood the message that they shouldn’t always use the same product year to year after each dose, she added.

“There is a need to move away from rotating and think more about the right ingredient for the right time of year.”

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

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