With current subsidy payments gradually being phased out, there will be little margin for error for sheep farmers. Maximising productivity and efficiency will become increasingly critical to business resilience, and farmers will need to seek every opportunity to make incremental gains in flock performance.
One area which can present a real opportunity is through a strategic approach to worming programmes, taking into consideration potential resistance issues.
According to research, 85 per cent of farmers believe the wormers they currently use work as well as they always have, despite studies revealing 98 per cent1 of farms have anthelmintic resistance.
Not only does this mean lamb growth rates are inadvertently being supressed in many flocks, but it also highlights the worrying trajectory the industry is on when it comes to wormer resistance.
If the approach to worming does not change, farmers could be faced with little effective treatment options.
Farmers are therefore being urged to update their worming protocols in line with the latest Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep guidelines to both improve performance and their business’ bottom line, while slowing the rate of resistance to the older group 1, 2 and 3 wormers.
Expert adviser Matt Blyth, of Blyth Livestock Advisory Services, has been working alongside flocks struggling with resistance since as early as 2009 and explains resistance is an invisible problem, often until it is too late.
He says: “Resistance will not slap you in the face.
You will usually first notice other problems, such as lambs not growing as well as you would expect, more health problems and, in some situations, lower scanning percentages.
“Poorly planned worming programmes are often a key contributor to the build-up of resistance and I would recommend ensuring you have regular monitoring protocols in place.
“Monitoring your daily liveweight gain and carrying out regular faecal egg counts will not only help identify the need for treatment, but can also help determine whether a wormer has been effective.” It is also important to be sure you are treating for the right problem at the right time.
Mr Blyth says farmers should not be dosing with a wormer routinely because that is what they have always done.
He says: “Resistance builds up when you use the wrong treatment or the wrong dose, so if you are ever unsure of what to use, when or how much, I would strongly recommend consulting your vet or animal health adviser.
“While worm control is just one part of the flock health jigsaw, we know that poor control can hold back performance potential, but a healthier animal will grow and finish faster, requiring fewer inputs in the long run and therefore support an improved profit margin.”
One farmer who has seen success through changing his worming protocol is Rutland-based shepherd Zak Johnston, who works for T.P. Gilman.
Mr Johnston runs a flock of 4,250 Mule ewes, alongside 1,300 ewe lamb replacements and a further flock of 150 Suffolk Texel ewes, under the prefix Rutland Fast Rams.
The large enterprise, which also includes combinable crops and stewardship schemes, relies on proactive animal health management to optimise sheep performance.
Lambing from late February onwards, Mr Johnston creep feeds the lambs and sells them fat over summer.
Rams from the Suffolk cross Texel flock are bred for fast growth traits and are either sold as terminal sires or retained for breeding.
Historically, wormer use on-farm was not overly strategic, Mr Johnston says, dosing with rotation of either a group 1, 2 or 3 wormer twice-a-year.
However, when problems started to arise, he reviewed his method.
He says: “We discovered resistance had built up to the white wormers in particular, which was slowing the performance of the fattening lambs.
“About five years ago, our consultant Lesley Stubbings suggested we needed a more orderly approach to worming in order to stop resistance getting out of control.
Following her advice, we started faecal egg counting to check wormer efficacy, as well as using ZolvixTM on all sheep coming onto the farm as part of their quarantine treatment.
This includes rams, ewes and replacements, which are treated on arrival and yarded for 24 hours to prevent resistant worms getting onto our pastures.
“Thanks to the success with the quarantine dosing, we now also treat the retained lambs and any fattening lambs unsold with a single dose at the end of July.” Mr Johnston says he noticed a marked improvement in all his lambs since reviewing wormer practices.
He says: “Using ZolvixTM not only delivers visible production benefits for us, but it is part of a long-term strategy to keep older group wormers working for us.”
Anthelmintic resistance is one of the biggest challenges facing the health and profitability of the entire sheep industry, with 98% of farms identifying some level of resistance to group 1, 2 or 3 wormers.
Elanco’s ‘Wake Up to Worm Resistance’ campaign has been launched to raise awareness and tackle this major issue.
1 WAARD Project, meatpromotion.wales/images/resources/WAARD_FINAL_PROJECT_REPORT_1_-_19-11-15.pdf
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