If you haven’t already treated your cattle for liver fluke it is worth having a serious think about it. The Food Standards Agency recently reported that in 2014 27% of cattle slaughtered in Scotland had their livers condemned because of fluke damage. Meanwhile AHDB Beef and Lamb have estimated that producers may be losing up to £90/head based on factors including increased finishing times and reduction in carcase weight/conformation. These figures suggest that there should be a cost benefit in treating store and fattening animals but it is equally important that your heifer replacements grow well. When it comes to the adult herd untreated liver fluke can contribute to loss of cow body condition with possible knock on effects on colostrum quality and milk yield. These effects could be made worse this year following reports of beef and sheep silages with poor protein content.
Compared to sheep, it is less common for cattle to look ill due to liver fluke. So how can you find out if they are infected?
Are they reaching target weights?
If not there could be many possible explanations but you may wish to collect samples to rule fluke in or out.
Which samples to collect?
Dung samples become a more reliable guide to infection after the cattle have been housed for several weeks because this allows time for the fluke in the liver to develop into adults and produce eggs. All fluke in the liver will be adults by 10 to 12 weeks after housing. Blood samples can be checked for antibodies to liver fluke from 4 weeks after housing. This test is best used in youngstock following their first grazing season.
What product to use?
Not all products kill all ages of fluke in the liver, but once cattle have been housed for a few weeks there is no longer any need to worry about the youngest (early immature) fluke as they will have grown. This means that there is often no need to use products that contain triclabendazole. Treatment with nitroxynil (Trodax) is popular and can be carried out from around 8 weeks after housing. Following housing for 10 to 12 weeks, products that only kill adult fluke can be used e.g. oxyclozanide (Zanil) or albendazole (Albex, Endospec etc.) Keep an eye on withdrawal times as they vary widely. If you are unsure about product choice or timing of treatment talk to your vet or advisor. More information about fluke products for cattle can be found at: www.cattleparasites.org.uk/guidance/COWS_Flukicides_product_table.pdf
Heather Stevenson, Veterinary Investigation Officer, SAC Consulting
Sign up to the FAS newsletter
Receive updates on news, events and publications from Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service