Farmers who experienced the wet winter in some parts of the UK have been warned about the dangers of liver fluke infection this spring.

Image © Merial Animal Health

As the weather changes, farmers will start to turn out their cattle. However, according to Merial Animal Health, those that experienced the mild and wet winter need to “make the most of the grass” as this is “key for profitability“.

“Liver fluke infection can affect growth rates and increase finishing times,” said Merial’s Lynda Maris. “The risk of infection following turn-out has been increased by the mild and very wet winter we have just experienced.

“While most farmers are aware fluke can affect cattle during the winter months, and focus on giving a housing dose, many are unaware of the increasing importance of controlling fluke infections during the spring and summer months and the benefits of giving a fluke treatment as part of their grazing treatment programmes.”

Fluke infection can cause damage to the liver, resulting in the productivity of an animal suffering. In fact, research has shown even low levels of infection, while not producing any obvious clinical effects, can depress live weight gain by up to 1.2kg/week.

“Such a reduction in live weight gain increases the time to finishing and, obviously, every additional day an animal is kept on farm costs the farmer money,” said Ms Maris. “According to research by the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), liver fluke is estimated to be costing beef farmers approximately £87 per case. On this basis it is extremely cost-effective to treat against the parasite.”

According to Merial, giving a fluke treatment to grazing cattle post-turnout can help break the life cycle of the parasite by minimising fluke egg output and reducing the risk of infection later in the season. Such a treatment will also remove fluke from the animal and improve live weight gain from the farmer’s cheapest source of feed – grass. In fact, grazing cattle treated for fluke and worms have been shown to give a 31% increase in weight gain over untreated cattle and an 8% increase over those that were treated only for roundworms.
As it typically takes 8 to 12 weeks from cattle becoming infected at pasture to the stage where fluke are in the liver as egg-laying adults, treatment should be given 8 to 10 weeks after turnout, says Merial. Treatment at this time will kill adult fluke, reduce egg output and decrease pasture contamination. This timing also ties in with the planned worming treatment programme on many farms.

For more information, visit Merial’s website.

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