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Clear message needed on fluke control

Farmers across the UK and the Republic of Ireland have been surveyed about their liver fluke management. Farmers Guardian reports.


New research suggests more could be done to tackle fluke by vets, SQPs and by farmers.

The research was initiated by Elanco, in conjunction with the Moredun Research Institute, Fiona Lovatt at Flock Health and George Milne, National Sheep Association development officer and sheep farmer.

Elanco ruminant marketing manager Eugene Smyth says: “We wanted to discover the extent and impact of liver fluke and identify how farmers, alongside vets and suitably qualified people (SQPs), are managing it. The aim is to raise awareness of the issues and
increase knowledge of how to control liver fluke.”


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Liver fluke life cycle

Survey respondents demonstrated limited understanding of the fluke life cycle stages.

Moredun senior research scientist Dr Philip Skuce says: “We would not expect farmers to be experts as the liver fluke cycle is complex but a working knowledge of timings and seasonality would be beneficial to managing fluke sustainably through treatment and diagnosis.

“If we get a bad fluke season, as we did in 2012, a greater understanding helps inform decisions and ensures the farm can adapt to changing conditions, particularly with timing of doses.”


Matt Coulson, veterinary surgeon at Elanco, says: “Many farmers could identify autumn/winter as the period when liver fluke has most impact.”

However, the burden has been building long before the disease has become clinical and action can be taken to target treatment dates and prevent infection of the mud snail, he says.

“This would represent a huge step forward in limiting the disease’s impact.”

Liver fluke

Fasciola hepatica, or liver fluke, is a highly pathogenic flatworm parasite of ruminants. It causes severe liver damage, especially in sheep, and can result in the sudden death of previously healthy animals.


Chronic liver fluke infections cause significant production losses, estimated at £262.4 million in the UK alone.




Active ingredients

Mr Colston says: “A high percentage of farmers do not know what products they are using and why, but seem to be reliant on the advice given to them or recognition of brand names. This suggests a need for clear messaging about which products will be most effective and when.

“There seems to be an assumption all flukicides kill all stages of fluke, which is not the case. It appears there is lots more work to do to educate the industry.”

Dr Skuce says: “The survey showed 33 per cent are using flukicides as a preventative. However, most treatments for liver fluke are curative.

“In order to get to a position where there is strategic use of flukicides, we need to change this perception to drive correct dosing and sustainable use of products.”

Product choice

The survey revealed when deciding which product to use, 52 per cent of respondents seek advice from their vet or SQP and 7 per cent of farms are utilising their flock health plan.

However, 8 per cent are motivated by price and 19 per cent choose products because they have always done it the same way.

Fiona Lovatt, from Flock Health, says: “All farms should have a flock health plan which should include a strategic approach to testing and treatment at set times of the year as agreed with a vet or SQP.


“Although 63 per cent said they rotate their flukicide, unfortunately when you look at how this is being done, only 8 per cent are choosing by active ingredient for specific time of year and the likely dominant stage of fluke in the animal.

“About 59 per cent appear to understand they should not always use the same product, but are not considering why and are just rotating products. There is a need to move away from rotating and instead use the right ingredient at the right time of year for the right stage of fluke.”


Survey summary

The challenge for the industry is to make liver fluke understandable; experts can be guilty of assuming knowledge when farmers have many other things to think about.

Knowledge of the liver fluke cycle is limited. If farms are expected to get treatment decisions right and be able to adapt in bad fluke years, greater understanding is essential for future sustainability.


It is also essential to focus on ensuring SQPs and vets are fully up-to-date with testing options and the latest advice.

The panel says farmers need to focus on good pasture management and use the right product, at the right time, for the right stage of liver fluke and in the right animals.

The best way to do this is by utilising the flock health plan, getting reliable advice and incorporating testing and strategic dosing.
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