New study reveals cost of worms to UK cattle farmers

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Roundworms, liver fluke and lungworm are costing UK livestock producers £270 million in lost production and treatment expenditure every year, according to a new study to be published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine.

The study examined the economic burden of major parasitic worm infections on livestock across 18 European countries.

At the sector level, there are significant differences in the estimated costs; dairy cattle accounted for 55% of the UK total, with beef cattle at 29% and sheep flocks at 16% of the annual sum.

The UK comes second to France for having the highest costs (£418m), with Ireland (£214m) coming a close third. This is probably due to the fact the cattle are predominantly grazed in these countries and they have large national herds.

The UK’s estimated annual public funding for research on the control of worm infections in livestock amounted to just 0.18% of the annual disease costs.

Professor Eric Morgan of Queens University, Belfast co-authored the research. He said:

“All farmed ruminants with outdoor access are exposed to these parasites. This study highlights the staggeringly high impact worms have on cattle. There is a grumbling loss in every herd every year, which remains hidden on many farms. The move towards producing more milk and meat from grazed grass is also increasing the risk of picking up infections. The numbers are only going one way.”

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What effect do worms have on livestock and what can I do to prevent it?

Worms can affect animal performance in a number of ways; by reducing feed intake, growth rates, carcase weight and composition, fertility and milk yield. They are an important constraint on efficient ruminant livestock production and must be actively controlled.

Worm management has largely remained the responsibility of the farmer and their advisers and is based on administering anthelmintic drugs. However, this is threatened by the continuing increase in worm populations that are resistant to these products. The study estimated that annual losses attributed to wormer resistance to the cattle industry as a whole was around £3.5m.

Professor Morgan continued:

“There is no simple answer to a specific farm’s worm problems, because every animal, field and farm is different and risk varies in every grazing season. Scientific opinion supports the promotion of best practice parasite management programmes that will reduce the indiscriminate use of wormers. It also supports wider use of testing to inform anthelmintic treatment decisions.

“UK farmers are lucky to have the Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) group working on their behalf. Their latest information, available for free on their website, draws on the latest findings and thinking from researchers across the UK and has all the best answers so far.”

Further advice

Dr Dave Bartley of the Moredun Research Institute, co-author of the study:

“The results highlight the need to ensure that when anthelmintics are used, they are doing the job expected of them. Farmers should ask their vet/adviser about doing an anthelmintic efficacy check.”

Dr Hannah Rose Vineer, co-author, University of Liverpool:

“Farmers, working with vets and RAMAs/SQPS must draw up a plan for identifying the risks and how to protect their cattle from worm infections, in the most responsible way. It is no good waiting until there is a serious health problem or using products the worms have grown resistant to. Take the right steps now – or risk losing chemical control in the future.”

Click here to visit the Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) website for more information

Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) is a voluntary initiative aiming to provide the best available, evidence-based information to the beef and dairy cattle industries in relation to the sustainable control of both internal and external parasites. 

It is funded by AgriSearch, AHDB, AHDA, AHDB Beef & Lamb, AHDB Dairy, AMTRA, HCC, NFU, NOAH and QMS. COWS also works closely with SCOPS.

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