Using faecal egg counting as a tool to monitor worm burdens in lambs

Date published: 24 September 2019

Farmers in a North Antrim Sheep Business Development Group in conjunction with their CAFRE adviser have been involved in using the FecPak G2 machine for Faecal Egg Counts (FEC) to determine worm levels in their lambs throughout the grazing season and into the autumn period.

Rachel Megarrell, CAFRE Beef & Sheep adviser interprets FEC results for Sheep Business Development Group member Mark McCullough, Ballymena.

The results are presented as ‘eggs per gram’ (epg) of faeces and the number of eggs is an indication of the number of adult worms in the gut of the sheep. Worm control is one area for careful management within a sheep flock to ensure good lamb growth rates are achieved to help deliver a profitable sheep enterprise. Heavy worm burdens in lambs will result in a check in growth rate leading to a reduction in performance and increasing the amount of time required for the lamb to remain on farm to reach slaughter weight. In severe cases permanent damage can occur in the gut and this will reduce nutrient absorption. Therefore worm control is a priority to minimise the effect that internal parasites will have on lamb performance.  

The machine was demonstrated at a group meeting held in early May and has been used by members since to monitor worm burdens in their flocks. Using this method allows farmers to make an informed decision with regard to the need to dose. Its use has also proved beneficial on farms with suspected resistance to some worm products. With a steady increase being identified in resistance to some products this has become even more important in recent years. The fact that there is emergence of parasites that are resistant to some of the compounds available on the market suggests that the intensive use of anthelmintic products is not a sustainable approach. Regular monitoring combined with the use of FEC can help to ensure that we are preventing the damage that worms can cause to lambs. It is important however, to remember that FEC is a tool to help management not to replace it. 

It is recommended that the Sustainable Control of Parasites (SCOPS) protocols and guidance are followed with regard to choice of product for worms alongside the timing of administration referring to the SCOPS forecast for nematodirus risk through the early grazing period. The forecast predicts the hatch date for nematodirus based on temperature data from 140 weather stations across the UK. If in doubt then veterinary advice should be sought immediately.

The Business Development Groups Scheme is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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