ANALYSIS - Twenty per cent of cattle in the UK that were sent for slaughter last year had their livers condemned by inspectors because of damage caused by liver fluke.
However, the damage to the livers is not the only loss that could result because of liver fluke.
Beef cattle can show a reduced weight gain and dairy cattle lower yields.
In the UK, with recent wet and warm weather conditions there is concern that problems with liver fluke could be on the rise.
Last year, surprisingly, the Food Standards Agency figures showed a decrease in the numbers of livers condemned at the slaughterhouse in Great Britain – falling from 22.2 per cent in 2011 to 19.43 per cent.
However, vets have warned that there is no room for complacency.
Pharmaceutical company Merial’s Animal Health Veterinary Adviser, Fiona MacGillivray said that while the Great Britain figures show one in five cattle suffering from liver fluke, the figures for Wales showed nearly one in four (24 per cent) had their livers condemned and in Scotland the figures were higher at 28.92 per cent.
“This represents a huge loss to the industry. Indeed, EBLEX have just calculated the financial impact of the parasite on the cattle industry as in excess of £31,000,000. Whilst infected cattle often show no overt clinical signs, they require more feed and take longer to finish.”
“In addition, recent information from the NADIS Parasite Forecast has indicated that there is likely to be an increased risk of liver fluke infection during the coming months. This is due to the bad weather we had at the end of last year, which will have resulted in high levels of pasture contamination.”
Speaking at the recent Livestock Event in Birmingham, Dr MacGillivray added that the problem is also not unique to cattle in the UK but can be a threat to grass fed cattle across Europe and anywhere where the conditions are conducive to the parasite.
In England, liver fluke has traditionally affected the western parts of England, with the figures from the Food Standards Agency inspectors showing 18.9 per cent of livers condemned in the North West and 17.86 per cent in the South West.
However, the parasite is now being seen to be affecting cattle more and more in the South East of England and in the North East.
“Years ago fluke infection was virtually unknown in these eastern areas of England, but the wetter, warmer weather, and the movement of cattle from west to east has seen fluke become well established and an increasing problem,” said Dr MacGillivray.
Dr MacGillivray said that the solution could be to treat the cattle twice a year for liver fluke, particularly shortly after turnout when the cattle start grazing.
She said that by giving the cattle a fluke treatment at this time, the fluke egg output can be reduced and the risk of infection later in the season diminished.
She added that this treatment will remove the fluke from the animal and will improve live weight gain.
Animals treated at grass for fluke and worms have been shown to give a 31 per cent increase in weight gain over untreated animals and an eight per cent increase over those only treated for roundworms.
Dr MacGillivray said that it takes about 10 weeks from the cattle becoming infected at pasture to the stage where the fluke are adult and egg-laying in the liver.
She said that ideally, treatment should be given between eight and 10 weeks after turnout and for many farmers in the UK that stage has already been reached. The timing of the treatment also coincides with the programme used for worming treatment on most farms.
Similar treatment should also be given to sheep. In addition to pre-tupping and mid-winter fluke treatments, sheep would benefit from a pre-lambing treatment and in high risk areas, a dose should also be administered during the summer months to reduce pasture contamination from fluke eggs and a subsequent risk of disease in animals later in the year.
Extra treatments against fluke might produce added weight gain and yield and added value to the animals, but the animals also cannot enter the food chain immediately after treatment and they have to undergo a withdrawal period. For beef cattle the withdrawal period is 60 days and for sheep the animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption within 49 days of treatment.