Farmers who slaughter cattle at one of the participating factories may be familiar with the liver and lung reports from the Beef HealthCheck programme for each batch of animals.
These reports give health information on liver fluke, liver abscesses and pneumonia in the slaughtered animals.
The Beef HealthCheck programme has been running since 2016 and is delivered by Animal Health Ireland, in partnership with Meat Industry Ireland and the meat processors.
Farmers can access all their batch results by logging on to ICBF (www.icbf.com) under the Animal Health menu. Contact ICBF on creating a login if not already signed up (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On the ICBF website, you will be able to see the slaughter reports for batches sent to slaughter or individual animal results, as well as summarised trends. Take the opportunity to discuss the results from these reports with your veterinary practitioner, especially if you are seeing a worrying trend.
Why is liver fluke a concern?
Cattle are usually chronically affected by liver fluke, and clinical signs can go unnoticed, although they may have reduced growth rates, fertility and milk yields. A study conducted by Rebecca Carroll, formerly of AHI, found that steers with evidence of liver fluke at slaughter were lighter by an average of 36kg liveweight at a standardised slaughter age.
This translates into a loss of roughly €77 per carcase with a kill-out percentage of 55% and the beef price at €3.90.
Our climate is ideal for liver fluke to thrive and the slaughter reports show that the parasite is widespread, although the prevalence of liver fluke in slaughtered animals has been decreasing over the last few years.
Even with this decrease, in the northwest counties, up to 77% of herds that sent animals to slaughter have had animals with signs of liver fluke this year
Live liver fluke parasites were only seen in 1.4% of cattle carcases this year, compared to over 3% four years ago.
Even with this decrease, in the northwest counties, up to 77% of herds that sent animals to slaughter have had animals with signs of liver fluke this year. In contrast, in Wexford, the county with the lowest prevalence, up to 25% of herds are still affected.
If live liver fluke parasites are seen at slaughter in the first half of the year, these were likely picked up in the previous autumn/winter and would suggest a need for you to review your parasite control at housing dosing plan.
Many of the flukicides are only effective against adult liver fluke, so speak with your vet about when best to dose and what products to use. The housing period is usually ideal to treat for liver fluke in cattle, and from the trends, it would seem that the majority of farmers have been treating successfully.
Herds might only have a few animals infected if liver fluke is present on the farm, but they can still pass parasite eggs in the dung and contaminate pastures near waterlogged or poached areas, spreading to more animals over time.
Quarantine is also important to prevent bringing resistant liver fluke on to the farm
If your slaughter reports and further tests are negative for liver fluke, then if you purchase stock, it is important to quarantine and treat them to prevent liver fluke from being introduced and infect other animals on your farm.
Quarantine is also important to prevent bringing resistant liver fluke on to the farm. There are increasing reports of triclabendazole resistance – the only flukicide effective against immature liver fluke. This drug is particularly important for sheep farmers, as the immature stage of the liver fluke causes severe liver damage and can even result in sudden death in sheep.
The damage caused by immature liver fluke is also associated with Black disease (clostridial infection) in both sheep and cattle, which is preventable with vaccination.
Beef HealthCheck programme data is also being used by ICBF to develop breeding values for genetic resistance to liver fluke
The same parasite affects sheep and cattle, and on mixed farms, treatment should take place for both groups of animals. If this is a problem on your farm talk to your vet who will advise on the best treatment for your animals.
In addition to giving farmers health information on their animals, the Beef HealthCheck programme data is also being used by ICBF to develop breeding values for genetic resistance to liver fluke. These dairy and beef sires are less likely to have offspring that will be infected by liver fluke and selection with liver fluke in mind will make genetic improvements over the long-term. Further information is available on the ICBF website.
One of the major limitations with slaughter data, is that it comes too late for an individual animal but other tests are available to you. Farmers who that took part in the BEEP-S scheme last year, will be familiar with doing dung sampling and sending away the sample to look for fluke. This test is based on seeing eggs in the dung which are only produced when the fluke has reached an adult stage – this can take up to 12 weeks after infection.
If the sample is taken over the summer, it can be a bit early to see eggs because of the stage of the parasite’s life cycle and a negative test might falsely rule out fluke on your farm. Animals are most likely to pick up infection in the autumn to winter, so dung sampling in the winter is most likely to detect liver fluke.
Note that rumen fluke eggs can also be seen on a dung sample, but usually treatment is not necessary for these animals unless they are showing clinical signs such as scour or weight loss.