Vets encouraged to help cattle farmers change one thing to improve sustainable parasite control - Veterinary Practice
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Vets encouraged to help cattle farmers change one thing to improve sustainable parasite control

Results of a recent survey suggest that many cattle producers are struggling to implement some simple, but impactful changes

Livestock vets are being urged to support beef and dairy producers to change their approach to parasite control as part of a new campaign to help livestock farmers move towards a sustainable, best practice approach. The Change One Thing campaign by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd was launched after the results of a recent survey which suggested that many cattle producers are struggling to implement some simple, but impactful changes.

The survey aimed to investigate the extent to which beef and dairy producers are aware of methods to sustainably control parasites; how many are following best practice techniques, and what advice and support they need to make a change.

Sioned Timothy, Ruminant Technical Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health said, “Reassuringly, 70 percent of respondents who are the main decision maker indicated that they were either very concerned or a little concerned about wormer resistance on farm. This level of awareness is positive since wormer resistance is on the rise, and the livestock industry must make changes to parasite control if we are to safeguard the effectiveness of wormers.”

However, the survey indicated that farmers are not asking professionals such as their vet or SQP for advice on parasite control as much as they could.

Only 55 percent of main decision maker respondents asked their vet for advice on parasite control planning as part of overall herd health planning, and that dropped to 21 percent for specific parasite control advice.

In addition, only 65 percent of main decision makers sought advice from an SQP when purchasing worming or fluke products, despite SQPs being qualified to provide parasite control advice at the point of prescription and supply.

Positively, over 60 percent of main decision maker respondents had already implemented some methods of sustainable parasite control, including quarantining and treating bought-in animals, managing pasture use, and calibrating and testing dosing guns. But more than half of the same respondents were aware of but had not implemented several key methods, including weighing or tracking growth rates of youngstock, testing individuals or groups of animals for parasites, and using preventative methods such as vaccinating for lungworm.

Ms Timothy highlighted that nearly 25 percent of main decision makers had not implemented the calibration or testing of their wormer dosing guns, and a further 12 percent were not even aware of this practice. “These producers are missing a simple opportunity to ensure that their cattle are dosed correctly. Under-dosing is one of the factors that drives resistance to anthelmintics on farm, and over-dosing increases costs unnecessarily,” she warned.

When respondents were asked why they haven’t implemented changes to their parasite control methods, over a fifth (22 percent) said they did not believe they needed to make changes, 20 percent don’t have the necessary equipment or buildings, 37 percent said the cost of installing new/better equipment was a barrier, and 32 percent cited the cost of additional diagnostic tests or treatments.

But according to Victoria Hudson, Senior Brand Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, the survey did highlight some positives. “Respondents indicated a good appetite for change provided they could access the appropriate advice and support,” she explained, “Including implementing weighing and tracking growth rates of youngstock (53 percent), testing for parasite burdens in individual animals (52 percent) and testing for parasite burdens in groups of animals (43 percent).

“Just over a third of respondents felt they might be able to quarantine and treat bought-in cattle, manage pasture, and use vaccination or other preventative measures. However, only 31 percent of main decision maker respondents felt they could make the easiest and simplest change: calibrating and testing dosing guns before use.”

One effective method of sustainable parasite control, targeted selective treatment, where the best performing animals in a group are left untreated, was not well understood or implemented by respondents (30 percent had implemented, 36 percent were aware of it but had not implemented, and 33 percent were not aware of it), and just under 35 percent felt that even with advice and support they would not be able to implement this method within the next three years.

“Unsurprisingly, over half of main decision maker respondents cited they needed funding to support new equipment/infrastructure to help them make changes to their parasite control practices, but there is a desire for more advice and support,” said Ms Hudson.

“Nearly 49 percent want help in understanding the parasite challenges on their farm, 54 percent want advice on which changes will most benefit their cattle, and just over 33 percent want more information on the different types of wormer products.

“However, survey results were conflicting on how farmers would get this advice and support since only 13 percent wanted more visits from their vet, and 11 percent from their SQP, despite these professionals being best placed to provide advice at an individual farm level.

“It shows that there is more work to do to help beef and dairy producers make the most effective and sustainable changes to parasite control,” explained Ms Hudson. “This is why we have launched Change One Thing, a campaign to support farmers in understanding and implementing the options available to improve the sustainable control of parasites.”

The campaign is also calling on farm vets to Change One Thing, relating to the information, support and advice that they give livestock farmers.

Ms Hudson said, “It can be difficult for vets to have conversations with farmers about making changes to their parasite control practices, so we urge them to think about changing their approach to discussing the topic, especially if their client/customer has so far resisted making any changes.

“Being inquisitive, and asking questions, can be more effective than ‘telling’, and it’s important that farmers believe in the need to make the change, and that they can practically do it. Even small changes can make a big difference, and testing and trailing strategies tailored to an individual farm will help the farmer to see the benefits for themselves,” she concluded.

Example changes that farmers could make to improve their parasite control in a sustainable way, include:

  • Weigh and track growth rates of youngstock
  • Implement monitoring strategies
  • Quarantine and treat all bought-in cattle before mixing with home herd
  • Manage pasture use to reduce the likelihood of parasite infection
  • Leave some of the best performing animals untreated
  • Use preventative measures e.g. vaccination for lungworm
  • Calibrate and test dosing applicators/injectors before use

Resources for farmers, vets and SQPs to Change One Thing are available on the Beat the Parasites website.

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