Reducing Losses from Liver Fluke

UK - Liver fluke cost the Great British beef and sheep industry £13-15 million in 2011 according to the latest estimates from EBLEX, the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers.
calendar icon 12 April 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

Food Standards Agency (FSA) data shows that 22 per cent of cattle livers (510,269) and six per cent of sheep livers (828,990) were rejected due to fluke infection last year, with big financial costs involved for both producers and processors.

The cost of liver rejection to the GB processing sector alone was almost £3 million. The cost to producers was far more significant, at approximately £25-30 per infected animal, due to slower weight gain and lower feed conversion rates.

Liver fluke is a parasitic disease caused by infection with fasciola hepatica, which affects grazing livestock. Mature flukes emerge in the liver causing tissue damage. They can also cause reduced weight gain, loss of condition and in some cases mortality. It also increases the risk of the animals contracting other conditions.

At this time of year, liver fluke predominantly takes the form of chronic fascioliasis, which causes weight loss and poor body condition in ewes. Fluke in sheep is estimated to reduce weight gain by 10% in ewes and 30 per cent in lambs. One vet estimates this could cost up to £26,000 in lost productivity in a 500 ewe flock in a year.

Latest NADIS forecasts show that temperatures of above 10°C in March across much of the UK will have allowed snail and fluke development on the pasture. Fluke eggs passed onto pastures during the spring will develop over the summer in snails, causing infection in cattle and sheep in late summer, autumn or early winter.

EBLEX advises beef and sheep producers to take the following steps to lessen potential infections:

  • Exclude stock from the wet areas which are typical snail habitats, e.g. pond margins, river banks;
  • In dry years, avoid wet holes, as stock will be more likely to drink from these small areas;
  • Tap into NADIS parasite forecasts to monitor level of risk and allow more targeted treatment and preventative measures;
  • Producers are encouraged to ask their abattoir for feedback on the level of infection among their animals.

    On farms where fluke has been diagnosed, producers should discuss a treatment and control plan with their vet/adviser to ensure maximum benefit without encountering resistance to products available.

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