Liver fluke warning

The Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Surveillance Unit released a liver fluke disease alert on 20 December warning of the threat of unusually late cases of acute liver fluke in sheep and sub-acute disease in cattle.

The unit, which collates, processes and disseminates animal health and disease information explained that “over the past few weeks the Department’s Regional Veterinary Laboratories (RVLs) have reported that post-mortem investigation into a variety of signs including sudden death, ill thrift, inappetence and weakness in both sheep and cattle have returned a diagnosis of acute/sub-acute live fluke disease (fasciolosis)”.

It advises farmers who have a previous history of liver fluke on their farm to consult with their veterinary practitioner to ensure an adequate control plan is in place to deal with an increased threat.

It highlights the importance of all farmers being aware of the late season risk and recommends that ill thrift, illness or unexplained deaths are investigated including referring faecal samples for testing or carcases for post mortem examination.

Product selection will depend on how animals are being managed at present. Where treatment is targeted at out wintered animals, then products should be selected that treat at least immature and mature liver fluke parasites.

Where animals have been housed for eight to nine weeks, then there is more scope to select products that target just mature liver fluke.

The report attributes cases of acute fluke very late in the season to the unseasonably warm and wet conditions.

It states that it has provided ideal conditions for the intermediate host, the mud snail, to thrive in ground conditions it prefers in ‘acidic muddy soils such as rushes or waterlogged areas around troughs, gateways etc”.

SIS scanning records

Late pregnancy feeding records must be recorded under the scanning measure in the Sheep Improvement Scheme. This can be recorded in the scheme action book or elsewhere, as long as it is available in the case of an inspection.

The records must include the date on which feeding commences and the feeding rate.

There is no obligation to follow a particular feeding programme – i.e. flocks can utilise concentrate feeding, forage crops, feed buckets etc, as long as the feeding programme delivers on its aim of minimising mortality.

The standard Teagasc late pregnancy feeding programme detailed in Table 1 is a good blueprint to start with for many flocks. This is for a twin-bearing lowland ewe weighing 75kg to 80kg and typically needs to be adjusted upwards by 30% for triplet-bearing ewes and reduced similarly for single-bearing ewes.