BHC Newsletter Winter 2019 FINAL


ANIMAL HEALTH IRELAND Contributing to a profitable and sustainable farming and agri-food sector through improved animal health








Animal Health Ireland, 4-5 The Archways, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, N41 WN27


Beef HealthCheck programme update

Dr Natascha Meunier, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager

T he Beef HealthCheck programme has so far captured slaughter information from 557,700 animals in 2019 originating from 23,500 herds. The average percentage of live liver fluke seen was 1.5% and liver damage considered due to liver fluke was seen in 11.9% of cattle. Liver abscesses were seen in an average of 3.7% of cattle and pneumonia was seen in 1% of animals at slaughter. While the average prevalence of fluke was lower than last year overall, there are major differences in county levels, with the north-west counties having the highest infection levels. In young homebred cattle less than 30 months old, findings of live liver fluke at slaughter reached 8.8% in Donegal and 6.4% in Roscommon (Figure 1). The frequency of liver damage in these counties was also higher, with 27.1% in Donegal and 17.4% in Roscommon in 2019 to date in homebred younger animals. Evidence of fluke in older stock was more common compared to that in younger animals (Figure 2).

While the average prevalence of fluke was lower than last year overall, there are major differences in county levels, with the north-west counties having the highest infection levels. In young homebred cattle less than 30 months old, findings of live liver fluke at slaughter reached 8.8% in Donegal and 6.4% in Roscommon

Figure 1: Live liver fluke reported at slaughter in homebred cattle <30 months in 2019 to date
















Figure 2: Beef HealthCheck reported conditions at slaughter in 2019 to date

This year’s DAFM liver fluke forecast has been published, highlighting those areas which are at high risk of animals becoming infected with liver fluke following the mild wet summer (page 11). The Beef HealthCheck reports from the previous year can also give an indication of whether fluke is present on farm and how effective last year’s treatments were. If liver fluke is present, control of the parasite is necessary for improved production efficiency, as evidenced by newly published research by Rebecca Carroll (page 4). The study showed that steers had average lifetime losses of 36 kg if they showed signs of liver fluke infection at slaughter. Housing is an ideal time to treat for parasites, as once animals are off pasture, they can no longer be infected with internal parasites, although monitoring should continue for external parasites such as lice and mange. If a flukicide was used at housing that works only against adult liver fluke parasites, it is worth doing a faecal egg count for liver fluke eggs 6-8 weeks after housing and if needed, repeat the flukicide treatment. Click here for more information on parasite control.




The economic cost of liver fluke in Irish steers

Rebecca Carroll, former Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager, AHI

Liver fluke is a common parasite of grazing animals worldwide and a widely recognised cause of production losses in cattle. Cattle are infected with liver fluke by ingesting the larvae on contaminated grass. The liver fluke larvae penetrate the intestinal wall and enter the liver where they cause damage. Infected cattle can show signs such as oedema under the jaw (bottle jaw), anaemia, poor coat condition and lack of appetite. However, in most infected cattle the signs are subtle, with reduced growth rates which may not be obvious to the farmer. Animal Health Ireland (AHI) has undertaken research to estimate the cost of liver fluke in Irish steers. AHI’s Beef HealthCheck programme uses touchscreen technology to allow veterinary inspectors in abattoirs to record cattle with livers damaged by liver fluke. The performance of cattle can be assessed using their age and weight at slaughter. Comparing large numbers of infected and uninfected steers allows us to estimate the economic cost of liver fluke infection in Irish steers. Methods were developed to allow the calculation of the difference in mean lifetime weight gain at 819 days (the average age at slaughter of a steer in the database) between liver fluke negative and liver fluke positive steers. Records were analysed from 32,007 steers, older than 365 days of age, that were sent to the factory from their birth herd. Animals with liver fluke found in their liver or liver damage associated with liver fluke were classified as liver fluke positive. The overall estimate of the reduction in mean lifetime weight gain at 819 days in Irish steers associated with liver fluke infection was 36kg. The economic cost of this figure was calculated by multiplying the difference in lifetime weight gain by the kill-out percentage and the price per kg. Assuming a kill-out percentage of 55% and a price per kg of €3.50, the summary difference between liver fluke negative and liver fluke positive Irish steers is approximately €70.00. It is recognised that post-mortem liver inspection is not a perfect test for liver fluke due to the nature of the abattoir environment where only a brief examination of the liver can take place and because early and very mild infections cannot be detected. Analysis which assumed that not all infections were actually detected at post-mortem indicated that the true cost of liver fluke was even greater. This research is the first time the impact of misclassification due to the imperfect nature of the post-mortem inspection as a test for liver has been quantified.




Liver fluke commonly infects Irish cattle, the Beef HealthCheck programme reported in 2019 to date that on average at slaughter 7.7% of steers and 8.3% of heifers showed liver damage likely due to liver fluke. The risk of liver fluke is greatest on poor, wet pasture but the majority of farms in Ireland are a risk of liver fluke depending on the weather conditions in a given year. Methods to control and prevent liver fluke include: • Improving drainage and fencing off wet areas • Preventing poaching • Treating bought-in animals with an appropriate flukicide and quarantining for 4 weeks after arriving on farm- see the AHI Biosecurity Purchasing Stock Guidelines for more information • Strategic dosing of cattle in early- mid summer, designed to reduce the number of snails (the intermediate host) becoming infected, and therefore the level of infection for cattle from pasture, may be necessary on some farms • Treating cattle at housing and, if required, again 6-8 weeks after housing. Assess the effectiveness of previous housing treatments by reviewing Beef HealthCheck factory reports for live fluke and revisit the treatment strategy, if needed. The most appropriate methods for controlling liver fluke on an individual farm should be discussed with the farm’s veterinary practitioner. Knowledge of the considerable reduction in weight gain associated with liver fluke infection and the resulting cost of €70.00 or more to the farmer allows Irish farmers and their veterinary practitioners to make informed decisions about the control of liver fluke on their farms. More information on the control of liver fluke can be found in Animal Health Ireland leaflet ‘Liver fluke – the facts’, click here . Previous research has demonstrated a negative association between liver fluke infection and the performance of beef cattle but this study is the first time that Irish abattoir data has been used to quantify the cost liver fluke in beef cattle at slaughter. Click here to read the research paper.




Are you benefitting from your online post-mortem Beef HealthCheck data?

Dr Natascha Meunier, Beef HealthCheck Programme Manager

• Previous Beef HealthCheck reports are available online at • Summary tables and graphs for liver and lung data available by year • Information is downloadable


D isease in animals can often be well hidden, with the only signs of illness being damage seen on post-mortem. Animals that are subclinically affected- ill but not showing signs - can experience poorer performance such as reductions in average daily gain, taking longer to finish. Beef HealthCheck data provides an opportunity for herd owners to review information on liver and lungs, if slaughtering cattle at one of the 17 participating factories nationwide. What is available online? The Beef HealthCheck dashboard accessible on the ICBF website has summary tools that allow the comparison of data between years from previous reports. Previous batch reports are also available to view, including the individual animal results. This can be useful for comparing trends, evaluating if a treatment has worked or identifying a potential issue that may affect the herd. Confirm that your fluke dosing strategy was effective last year Liver fluke in Ireland is widespread and control of the parasites is important to prevent production losses. Beef HealthCheck reports with ‘Live fluke’ show that live fluke parasites were present at slaughter. Reviewing last year’s reports for any cattle leaving housing and going to slaughter can give an indication as to whether the fluke treatment at housing was effective. It should be noted that different flukicides are only active against certain life stages of the fluke parasite. Animals with liver abscesses Liver abscesses in cattle are often associated with a rumen acidosis, which is a condition affecting the acidity of the rumen and disrupting the microbial balance. Acidosis can lead to inflammation and damage of the rumen wall, allowing bacteria to enter the blood stream and cause abscesses in the liver. High levels of digestible carbohydrates or inadequate mixing of feed are risk factors for rumen acidosis. Liver abscesses may be an indicator for the reviewing of the feeding management on farm.




Pneumonia in your herd Respiratory disease or pneumonia is caused by various infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Stressors such as transport, feed and water availability, poor ventilation, overcrowding and bought-in animals are often associated with respiratory disease. Lungworm infections can also lead to pneumonia. Increases in pneumonia seen at slaughter may require addressing these risk factors or reviewing vaccination programmes for respiratory disease. What does the ‘other liver’ or ‘other lung’ category mean? The ‘other’ categories in the Beef HealthCheck data refer to less common conditions, for example, a generalized inflammation, cyst or a tumour. Herds with multiple animals affected by ‘other’ abnormalities of the liver or lung may warrant further investigation to look for underlying causes. How do I access the online Beef HealthCheck tools? A step-by-step guide on how to access and use the website functionality, which is available free-of-charge, is available click here . It also includes instructions on how to obtain login details for new users. Essentially, the database can be accessed by logging in on the and following the drop-down menu under ‘Services’- ‘AHI Animal Health’ and selecting the Beef HealthCheck option. Once on the page, different years can be selected for the summary graphs and clicking on the graphs will display individual animal results. Individual results can also be accessed under each batch on the ‘Result Batch’ summary view tab. Results can be downloaded, if needed. Getting veterinary advice You can grant your veterinary practitioner access to view your herd data through their own ICBF login. This can be done under the ‘Admin’- ‘Change data permissions’ drop down menu on the ICBF website. This will allow your veterinary practitioner to evaluate your data and provide informed treatment options.




Contract Rearing Dairy Replacements – A Teagasc Advisor’s Perspective

Gerry Cregg- Teagasc Business and Technology Advisor, Castlerea, Co Roscommon

Introduction With falling beef prices and the continued dark cloud around Brexit, there is considerable interest among beef farmers in earning extra money by taking in dairy heifers or even bull/beef calves from dairy herds. There are many beef farmers considering contract rearing as a knee jerk reaction to poor cattle prices and the considerable media campaign to promote contract rearing in light of expansion of our dairy herds. While there are good opportunities, there is a potential for difficulties ahead for many of these farmers if they do not properly research and financially plan where they are going. In my experience over the past 20 years working with technically efficient beef farmers in Co. Roscommon, the returns from improvements in their farm business have not been financially rewarded and they have been looking for opportunities for better returns on investment. A beef farmer who can provide a contact rearing skillset and land-base for dairy farmers and build a solid relationship over time can become an integral part of developing better dairy business. The key part of developing trust in this mutually beneficial relationship is that the contract rearer is working to the highest of standards and returning as close to 95% of heifers in-calf and on target weight within the twenty months. Background – Teagasc Roscommon Contract Rearing Group Seven years ago I selected a group of top beef farmers in Roscommon to research opportunities in contract rearing. We realised that there were potential farm business opportunities in contract rearing but that we were not yet ready as a group to provide that service as there were gaps in our knowledge. We visited Moorepark, some top dairy farmers and a number of existing contract rearers around the country. We realised that the key to providing a good contract

While there are good opportunities, there is a potential for difficulties ahead for many of these farmers if they do not properly research and financially plan where they are going.

The key part of developing trust in this mutually beneficial relationship is that the contract rearer is working to the highest of standards and returning as close to 95% of heifers in-calf and on target weight within the twenty months .




rearing business is to reduce the workload and pressure on dairy farmers in February/March. The suckling farming background of this group ensured they were competent stock men and hence breeding heifers was not a big challenge. The long term sustainability of contract rearing as we saw it was to provide the full package taking the dairy calf at 3 weeks of age returning them in calf at 20 months. The success of our group over the past number of years is largely based on developing that service with a primary focus on strict protocols, which were developed around animal health, regular monitoring of live weight gain and grassland management. The greatest risks to this system are around breakdown in animal health, which manifests itself in underachieving liveweight targets and ultimately higher mortality and infertility in the system. A fundamental requirement of the group is technically to understand grassland management, make top quality silage (over 70% DMD) and be competent at heat detection to achieve 95% of heifers in calf within a 6-week period. This is the basic criteria of the contract and why the contract rearer is paid for that service. Present Situation With the expansion in dairying largely slowing down, granted in areas of the country as in the west there is further opportunity, but the tide is turning with concerns over nitrates and climate change threats applying a braking system to further expansion. This in turn will limit the potential for wide scale contract rearing. The reality of the situation in Ireland is that currently there is a shortage of top quality calf rearers and too many beef farmers wanting to start contract rearing. Having spent a long day on a contract-rearing stand this summer at the Dairy Open Day in Moorepark, what I took out of the day was that 90% of people I spoke to were farmers wanting to be a contract rearer rather than dairy farmers looking for the service. As with any business, demand and supply will drive contract rearing rates down and what is already a marginal business will become less viable into the future. There are however, opportunities for top farm managers to work with top dairy farmers, but the real opportunities are in calf rearing pre-weaning with proper facilities and with calf rearing skill sets. This is a labour intensive service and requires a greater knowledge bank but in the long term is where dairy farmers see real merit. The way the dairy farmer looks at it particularly in the spring with high cow numbers and excessive workloads, they will choose to pay a labour unit to someone to manage their calves and replacement enterprise off farm. The key requirement for that individual is to hit close to national targets and provide healthy stock on their return, otherwise they can pay someone locally to do the same job on their farm at the minimum agricultural wage. The benefit to having access to contract rearers’ land for reducing nitrates tips the balance in favour of opting to send their dairy heifer enterprise off farm. For many beef farmers they would only consider taking on weaned calves or yearling heifers and will it be a sustainable opportunity if too many farmers drive down rates at a time of falling milk prices? Therefore, the real opportunities in the long term is to add on the calf rearing skill set with proper facilities. Farmers need to take a planned approach for the next few years to have a sustainable contract rearing business.




The other big consideration is how good or profitable is the dairy farmer you are working with? The first part of the dairy business to be streamlined if milk price falls or where a dairy farmer is under financial pressure is reducing replacement costs. Contract rearing can be affected in this scenario. Therefore, if you are working with financially performing dairy farms you will be exposed to lower risks. Remember also that poorer performing dairy farms are struggling with animal health issues or infertility in the herd and no contract rearer in one year can resolve these factors. In my experience when targets are not met, the dairy farmer will be quick to blame the contract rearer and the blame game starts. That leaves me on to the subject surrounding the issue of contracts and penalty clauses, which are often not discussed until the actual contract is being drawn up. From the dairy farmers’ point of view while they are paying considerable monies to a contract rearer for the service, they require some security to cover the risk in terms of poor performance from the contract rearer. This is a very important consideration for any beef farmer before embarking on contract rearing. The biggest lesson we have learned over the last four years is that contract rearers working in isolation can find themselves in extremely stressful situations when targets are not being met. The support of a discussion group or a group of likeminded people help to alleviate and reassure the contract rearer when systems are breaking down. Of paramount importance also is to have a support network of technical professionals to support the contract rearer. Overall there are opportunities for beef farmers to go contract rearing. The choice they have with their current land base is to replace their own stock with contract dairy stock and as a result, their overall net worth is reduced, but this can be justified with a long-term sustainable contract rearing business. A word of caution here, a dairy farmer not committed to a longer-term arrangement can leave the contract rearer very exposed financially if they break contract or do not renew it. The other option is to have beef farmers contract rearing as a smaller add-on to their current business however, this can leave both herds exposed to animal health issues but is less of a financial risk. A long-term planned approach to contract rearing rather than the current knee jerk reaction in light of poor beef prices is what is required.




Liver Fluke Forecast November 2019

James O'Shaughnessy, Research Officer, DAFM and Chairman of the AHI Parasite Control TWG

Each year, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in collaboration with Met Éireann advises farmers of the predicted risk of disease caused by liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) infection in livestock. This forecast is based on meteorological data gathered between May and October by Met Éireann.

Figure 3. Based on the Ollerenshaw Summer Index, Ulster, Connacht, north Leinster and coastal Munster aremost at risk of higher losses withmoremoderate losses expected in south Leinster and the remainder of Munster. However, farmers in lower-risk areas should still remain vigilant for signs of disease.


<300 low 300-400 medium >300 low high RISK OF DISEASE




Other Tools for Identifying the Risk of Liver Fluke Infections The Regional Veterinary Laboratory (RVL) Liver Fluke Abattoir ELISA Survey

Blood samples collected by DAFM staff from a selection of lambs born in 2019 (928 flocks) across 25 counties were tested for the presence of antibodies to liver fluke by the DAFM Laboratory Service to determine the level of exposure of lambs in these flocks. Data from this survey indicates that the majority of infected flocks are from counties on the western seaboard. A particularly large number of positive results were reported from flocks located in Mayo and Donegal. In these counties, exposure to liver fluke was detected in June, while animals in the southwest were apparently not exposed before August. By October, there was evidence of fluke exposure in lambs from the midlands and large parts of Leinster. Please see for further details and maps of test results. Animal Health Ireland Preliminary data from the Animal Health Ireland Beef HealthCheck programme indicates that nationally the frequency of liver fluke detected in cattle at slaughter has remained at low levels over the summer months and into the autumn, although fluke-damaged livers were seen consistently throughout this period, particularly in cattle from north western and western counties. Trends from previous years suggest that levels of liver fluke are likely to increase over the winter months. The Beef HealthCheck programme now provides a high level of coverage of cattle nationally and work is ongoing to analyse the information it provides. Farm-to-Farm Variation In order to assess the risk of liver fluke disease on any particular farm, various environmental factors, particularly climate, landform and soil type (whether soils are heavy or free-draining) must be taken into account. This is because the intermediate host of the parasite which is a mud snail (Galba truncatula) , tends to be located in soil that is slightly acidic and muddy. Thus, areas of fields with rushes or wet patches (e.g. around gates, troughs) are particularly important with regard to liver fluke risk. In addition, livestock owners should also factor in prior liver fluke history on the farm as this is an important indicator of future disease risks. Monitoring of Disease Liver fluke infection tends to be chronic in cattle, resulting in ill-thrift and poor performance. In sheep, chronic disease can occur but infection may also result in more acute clinical signs, causing sudden death in cases of heavy challenge. Livestock owners should continue to be vigilant for any signs of illness or ill-thrift in their animals and should consult with their private veterinary practitioner (PVP) if they are concerned about liver fluke infection or other potential cause(s) of these clinical signs. It is recommended that carcasses be referred by a PVP to an RVL for necropsy in cases where the cause of death is not obvious.




Information from abattoir examination of livers of previously sold fattened stock is also a valuable source of information for livestock owners of the prevalence of liver fluke infection on their own farm or on the efficacy of their control programme. Treatment and Control In areas of high risk and on farms where liver fluke infection has been diagnosed or where there is a prior history, livestock owners should consult with their PVP to devise an appropriate treatment and control programme. When using flukicides to control and treat liver fluke infection, particular attention should be given to dosing cattle at the time of housing or shortly thereafter, and sheep in autumn or earlier in the year where indicated by faecal examination results or prior disease history. For sheep, a drug effective against early immature as well as late immature and mature flukes should be used to protect against acute disease. In addition, sheep should be moved from affected pasture to prevent re-infection. If the flukicide given to cattle at housing is not effective against early immature fluke, then faecal samples should be taken six to eight weeks after housing and tested for the presence of liver fluke eggs. This will determine whether a follow-up flukicide treatment is necessary. Given that flukicides do not have a persistent activity, any cattle or sheep that are out-wintered are at risk of further infection post-treatment and follow-up flukicide treatments may be necessary. This is especially so if they remain on high-risk pastures and it is advised to always monitor livestock for the occurrence of re-infection. Advice should always be sought on treatment protocols and on the appropriate interval at which such treatments should be given. Testing faecal samples for the presence of liver fluke eggs can help determine both the need for, and success of, flukicide treatments. This is especially important given that resistance to flukicides is becoming an increasing concern. In addition, bulk milk testing for antibodies can be used in dairy herds to monitor year-to-year variation in exposure (please note that bulk milk tests cannot be used to judge the success of any treatment given). Where feasible, and as a long-term control option, areas of farms that provide suitable habitat for the mud snail such as wet muddy areas should be either fenced off or drained. This will result in a permanent reduction of snail habitat. What about Rumen Fluke? The rumen fluke, Calicophoron daubneyi , which has become more prevalent in Ireland over the last number of years in both cattle and sheep, infects the same intermediate host as the liver fluke. The pathogenicity of rumen fluke is mainly due to the activity of the juvenile stages in the intestine, while the presence of adult flukes in the rumen is not normally associated with clinical signs. If clinical signs such as rapid weight loss or diarrhoea are seen, or if there is a history of previous disease from rumen fluke on the farm, livestock owners should consult with their PVP as to whether treatment for rumen fluke is required. The finding of rumen fluke eggs in faecal samples of animals that are thriving and producing well does not indicate that treatment for rumen fluke is necessary.




Further Information Sources For details on liver fluke and its control and information on flukicide selection for cattle along with information on the Beef HealthCheck programme are available at click here . For list of laboratories who provide parasite testing click here . Click here for information on the names and specifications of flukicides licensed for sheep.



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