Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It’s the season to test your livestock for parasites

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, gives a timely reminder for sheep and beef farmers to monitor their livestock for worms and liver fluke 

Internal parasites (worms and liver fluke) pose a significant threat to animal health and performance. Farmers are encouraged to plan their grazing strategies to reduce the risk of infection and use available monitoring tools. Autumn is a high risk period for liver fluke, and this coincides with some of our Challenge Sheep farmers finding high worm egg counts in their flock’s faecal matter.

Fit mature stock should not require worming but young or thin stock may require a wormer. Look out for risk forecasts on the National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control Of Worms Sustainably (COWS) websites and speak to your vet for advice.

The peak fluke season is predicted to be later and shorter this year following the hot dry weather. In spite of this, high snail numbers have been observed in some areas of the country. Fields with a lower risk of fluke infection are drier, better drained with no persistent wet patches. Those that have been re-seeded, contain brassicas or were not grazed earlier in the year are also lower risk. Sheep are more likely to die from liver fluke infection during autumn than cattle. Symptoms of the disease in cattle are less obvious, including reduced feed intake, loss of body condition and slower growth rates. 

Testing for worms and fluke will help to avoid unnecessary treatments and checks whether treatment has been effective. It can also inform decisions about which stock to treat, what to treat them with and when. Importantly, it will allow you to differentiate between liver fluke and worms, particularly as infection with liver fluke can produce similar symptoms to haemonchus (worms).

Testing tools include: faecal egg counts (FECs), the coproantigen test, blood (ELISA) test, post-mortems of dead animals and abattoir liver returns. When using FECs it is important to remember that the results need to be considered with other information such as age, stocking density, time of 
year and performance levels.

In cattle, treatment decisions should be based on the likelihood of cattle having grazed infected pasture that season and on their treatment history. Using FECs to test for gut worms at housing is not useful because treatment needs to be targeted at the immature stage of the lifecycle when eggs have not yet been shed.

Top tips given by SCOPS and COWS include:

· Don’t get caught out by treating too early. Monitor to determine the need and timing of treatments

· In lower risk situations, consider treating sheep with closantel or nitroxynil rather than triclabendazole. Re‐infection (when treated animals are put back on to contaminated areas) is still a concern.

· Worms (including haemonchus, which can produce signs similar to liver fluke disease) may be the problem.

· Investigate losses. A post mortem is still the best way to establish whether liver fluke is present.

· Monitor abattoir returns carefully for evidence of liver fluke.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Red meat and its links to the environment and climate change

There is constant debate around red meat and the impact it has on our environment. James Wilde, Head of Media and PR at AHDB, explains how the organisation is trying to tackle negative messages around farming and climate change and help farmers to learn more about the impact of their farm businesses on the environment.

In the last week, the Government has sought the advice of climate experts on whether to set an even more ambitious target than its current one for reducing carbon emissions. It follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), showing rapid action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating impacts from climate change.

As a consequence, the issue of climate change has had a very high media profile, with a number of articles from the likes of the Independent and the Guardian advising a reduction in consumption of red meat leading to a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions is a must. The only dissenting voice in this debate has been that of Climate Minister Claire Perry, who has come under fire for her comments about her own preference for eating lots of local meat and her refusal to advise people about a climate-friendly diet.

It is a fact that methane, which is a natural by-product of how livestock break down their feed, does contribute to greenhouse gases. However, levels of methane emissions are comparatively low in the UK, with livestock production responsible for five per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions, and the industry is working hard to reduce these even further through breeding and feeding initiatives.

It is also balanced by the fact that grazing cattle and sheep manage permanent pasture as an effective carbon sink, they aid biodiversity and they make use of agricultural land that could not be used for growing crops. Effectively, take livestock off it and you take a massive amount of land out of food production at a time when our population continues to grow.

Put in context, livestock production in the UK has many positives which are rarely mentioned in the media coverage of these stories. Food production should be matched to the parts of the world where the land is most suited for the product being grown, the UK is a sustainable place to produce red meat due to our climate and geography, with few inputs required.

However, unfortunately and despite AHDB’s best efforts, many media outlets fail to seek out this balancing opinion. AHDB is using both traditional and social media to provide the industry and the wider public with clear facts surrounding meat and the environment. For more facts on climate change visit the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.

We also challenge misinformation whenever we can and attempt to inject balance into conversations which are being aired in public. Often a measure of success can be to keep things out of the media!

What is important is that we speak with a consistent voice – from farming in the UK and across the globe – to ensure we present an authoritative, robust and realistic view of how livestock farming benefits the environment.

AHDB information on climate change

Our Landscapes without Livestock report provides a visual guide to what impact a reduction in beef and sheep farming would have on some of England’s most cherished landscapes
We have also produced a series of three roadmaps exploring the environmental aspects of beef and sheep farming in more detail.

For more information, visit our corporate publications area to download: Change in the Air, Testing the Water and Down to earth.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Ensuring housing is suitable for dairy bred calves

Sarah Pick, Knowledge Exchange Manager – National Assistant writes about the most recent AHDB-funded calf discussion group meeting which focused on calf housing and its effect on youngstock health and performance. 

The discussion group was set up last summer in partnership with Meadow Quality to encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and discussion on improved youngstock health. Eight calf rearers form part of the group, which is facilitated by Nick Gibbon of Belmont Vets.

The group meets every three months, with each rearer taking it in turns to host the meeting. At the last meeting, the conversation focused on calf housing and ventilation specialist Dr Mike Wolf from the USA led the discussion

Adequate housing is essential for promoting calf health; one of the major causes of mortality and poor performance in youngstock is pneumonia. The disease can often be avoided if buildings are well designed and managed with good ventilation and drainage.

Dr Wolf gave us some top tips on how to assess whether housing is suitable:

1. Housing
One of the best ways to assess if the housing is adequate is to keep accurate records of calf weights and incidence of disease. Calves should be growing at least 0.7kg/day up to weaning and should be double their birthweight by this time. Pneumonia incidence is also important to record, with fewer than 15 cases of the disease expected in every 100 calves reared, or 15 per cent of the batch.

2. Ventilation
Good ventilation removes stale, damp air which helps ensure viruses and bacteria can’t survive for long outside the animal. Large sheds are unsuitable for calves due to their low bodyweight, they can’t generate enough heat to drive the ‘stack effect,’ resulting in less air movement. In these cases, mechanical ventilation should be considered. It must be designed to the height and specific requirements of the building and it’s best to seek expert advice. This will determine the duct diameter and length, the fan capacity and diameter of the outlet holes in the duct.

Ventilation can be assessed in a number of non-evasive ways. The presence of flies and cobwebs are a sign of poor ventilation. Flies can be reduced by using fly tapes early in the season. Also, after feeding look at the distribution of calves within the shed. If they are all huddled in one area, this area must be providing them with their preferred environment so try and replicate this across the shed.

3. Drainage
Adequate drainage is particularly important as bacteria thrive in wet conditions. By removing moisture the risk of disease is reduced. It is recommended that concrete floors have a minimum slope of one in 60 across the whole pen, and one in 20 for areas with expected high moisture levels. This will allow effective drainage of water and urine from under straw. This is particularly important when calves are being fed using machines as often more moisture is produced.

4. Bedding
Bedding reduces contact between the calf and the floor and any soiled straw, it also keeps the calves warm. Where possible, calves should be cleaned out every three weeks to reduce moisture and bacterial load.

Remember changes to calf housing do not need to be done all at once. You’ll soon start to see the benefits when small changes are made as and when time and money allow.

For more information on designing or making alterations to calf housing please read the BRP+ document ‘Better calf housing’ available on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website. Alternatively watch our videos Assessing calf buildings and Assessing ventilation.

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) are running a campaign on calf health that focuses on reducing respiratory disease. You can follow the campaign online by using the #calfhealth