Abattoirs condemn one fifth of all cattle livers for fluke

Liver fluke continues to cause losses in productivity and profitability in the national beef herd, with one fifth of cattle livers condemned at the abattoir in 2014. These losses come despite clear evidence of the parasite’s negative effect on feed conversion and growth rates, says the parasitology expert, Merial Animal Health.

Figures released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that more than one in five (22 per cent1) British cattle sent for slaughter at abattoirs in 2014 have had their livers condemned as a result of liver fluke. These figures were higher in Scotland and Wales with over one in four (around 27 per cent1) for both nations.

Callum Blair, Veterinary Advisor for Merial Animal Health says: “The FSA’s 2014 figures show the incidence of fluke across all British regions had reduced slightly compared to 2013; but this is no time to be complacent. Poor returns are hitting beef farmers hard. Any further losses from impaired production, and at the abattoir, add to the sector’s woes.

“This is no longer just a problem in the ‘wet West’. Even areas like the East of England, where historically liver fluke wasn’t a problem, have high levels of liver condemnations. Farmers across the UK need to look again at their parasite control strategies and act now to get on top of fluke problems.”

Liver fluke is estimated to cost the UK agricultural industry in the region of £13-15million a year in lost beef and lamb production2. The economic impact of liver fluke disease in cattle is mainly caused by poor performance, from slower growth rates, and increased finishing times as well as impacting on carcase quality3. Even low numbers of adult fluke can reduce feed intake by up to 15 per cent4, which over the housing period can significantly slow growth and increase the cost of production.

In fact, AHDB Beef and Lamb estimates the parasite can cost cattle farmers as much as £90 per head2, based on an additional 27 days finishing time, a 10kg reduction in carcase weight and carcase conformation that is half a score lower. Liver condemnations at the abattoir further increase the costs with lost income from the fifth quarter.

“Despite the difficult economic situation in the beef sector, farmers shouldn’t compromise on fluke control,” advises Mr. Blair. “The cost benefit of treating beef youngstock for fluke at housing was estimated by AHDB Beef and Lamb in 2011 at around £87 per affected animal, taking into account the cost of treatments2, so it makes financial sense to treat at housing.

He continues: “Treating at the point of housing will ensure that animals benefit immediately from the production improvements associated with fluke control. In order to ensure that the benefit is sustained for the entire housing period and animals are turned out fluke -free in the spring, cattle should either be tested and retreated if necessary or retreated strategically during housing.

“Farmers should consult their vet or SQP (Suitable Qualified Person) on the most appropriate product for their situation. Options include a straight flukicide, such as nitroxynil (Trodax®) or a combination endectocide, such as ivermectin and clorsulon (Ivomec® Super) which, in addition to treating fluke, is also effective against worms and external parasites.”

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