Don’t let parasites erode your margins!

Date published: 09 November 2023

The housed period for beef cattle is typically associated with high costs per kilogram of liveweight gain, either through conserved forage or concentrates and farmers must therefore ensure parasitic burdens are controlled, states Darryl Boyd, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser.

Darryl Boyd, CAFRE Senior Beef and Sheep Adviser.

The economic losses associated with worms and fluke in cattle are universally accepted. “Coughing, scouring and initial weight loss come to mind when farmers are thinking about parasites” however the long-term effects such as reduced milk yield, growth and fertility will all be compromised due to heavy or uncontrolled infestations of parasites and housing presents the ideal time to manage this.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach with parasites at housing. The main groups to consider are roundworms, lung and gut worms, along with liver fluke and rumen fluke.

The level of infestation and therefore treatment required will depend on several factors such as successful control while at grass, stocking density, location and age of animal.

Mature cattle should have built up a level of resistance against worms of the gut however no resistance is built up against liver fluke and all ages of cattle are susceptible to losses from liver fluke. Rumen fluke may not be an issue on all farms, however more and more cases are being presented.

Wet and heavy soils are associated with rumen fluke and given the warm wet autumn bigger burdens may be observed.

Bear in mind that our climate is changing, September 2023 was one of the hottest on record in the UK. This will change the populations and possible infestations of parasites and what worked in the past may not continue to do so.

If you have concerns of heavy burdens of lungworms on farm it may be an option to use a lighter product at housing with a follow up treatment later. The control of lungworm, alongside good housing and vaccination policy is critical in reducing respiratory problems in youngstock.

If you have concerns around the necessity of follow up treatments or the efficiency of initial treatments, take the guess work out of it and discuss planning a faecal egg count with your vet.

Housing is also an ideal time to treat cattle for ectoparasites such as biting and sucking lice, mites, and mange. Close contact between housed cattle alongside humid conditions and long winter coats are ideal conditions for these parasites to thrive.

An initial treatment at housing for all stock is recommended to control cryptic lice and mite populations and prevent a build-up. Monitor cattle from then on through the winter for signs of scratching and hair loss. Heavy infestations of ectoparasites have been associated with up to 10% in production losses from reduced feeding time on top of secondary skin conditions.

Follow up treatments most likely will be needed and all cattle housed in the same group must be treated at the same time. The clipping of winter coats will help control these parasites alongside treatment.

Removing hair removes ideal conditions for them to thrive and during clipping the evidence of an infestation can be obvious. Target along the back of the animal, around the tail head, neck and the back of the head.

In conclusion, no two farms and no two years are the same. Work closely with your vet to deliver a parasite treatment plan at housing for your own farm and monitor closely to gauge its effectiveness.

Irrespective of parasite control options used during the grazing season, housing provides the ideal time for parasite control.

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