By Debbie James

Sheep farmers may need to consider dosing their flocks with a flukicide this month following a warning that mild winter conditions have made west Wales a hotspot for fluke.

NADIS – the National Animal Disease Information Service – recently issued a warning that livestock in the region are at high risk of fluke because of weather conditions experienced over 2017.

Independent animal health specialist Sally Harmer says fluke stages, both within their mud snail intermediate hosts and on the ground, have a better chance of surviving in these situations.

“Hopefully most sheep would have received at least one dose of Triclabendazole before the new year but given the wet and mild weather over the autumn period they may need to consider dosing all the sheep on the farm again in the early part of the year depending on risk, she said.

Ms Harmer stressed that this should be done with a different flukicide.

But how does a farmer know there is a fluke problem on the farm?

“It can be historical in that the farm can have a history of liver fluke due to its location and ground conditions,’’ Ms Harmer explained.

“A sensible option is to test for fluke. With sheep, you can blood test via your vet, test dung samples for the presence of fluke eggs or request a coproantigen test.’’

But the drawback of testing for eggs is that there are only eggs when adult fluke are present.

“There can be a large number of immatures within the liver but no eggs in the dung,’’ said Ms Harmer.

The coproantigen test will detect fluke down to approximately eight weeks of age.

“These tests are not very expensive and are available from a number of laboratories,’’ said Ms Harmer.

Testing has the added advantage of ensuring that no unnecessary treatments are administered.

“Of course, fluke should be part of any quarantine dose and this includes lambs and any cattle bought in or returning onto the farm, and cattle should be included in any fluke control programmes on mixed farms,’’ advised Ms Harmer.

Farmers can also help reduce the fluke risk to their animals by avoiding grazing wet areas in high risk years.

Fluke control protocols

Review whether there is a fluke issue on the farm and use an appropriate flukicide if needed

Change the product used in the spring – your supplier can advise you

Check that the flukicide used is working

Ewes often do not need a wormer so take care with combination products

Ensure animals are given an effective quarantine dose when they arrive on farm.