Farmers in north Wales are warned to be aware of the risk factors of liver fluke due to the wet weather experienced this past year.

Liver fluke can be spread to both sheep and cattle leading to chronic health problems which can reduce fertility in livestock, lower growth rates and increase susceptibility to other conditions.

Provisional NADIS (National Animal Disease Information Service) fluke forecast for autumn 2019 has identified north Wales, along with north-west England and Scotland as high-risk areas, with south Wales considered to be a low-risk area. This is a result of the wet weather experienced this year. It is anticipated that fluke challenges will be higher this season.

Dr Rebekah Stuart, flock and herd health executive at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) warned: “The incidence of liver fluke has increased greatly over the last few years with it occurring in areas previously thought to be fluke free. Farmers should be aware of the risk factors which include a previous history of fluke infection on the farm or farm of origin, grazing wetter land or near muddy areas such as poached ground near gateways and troughs.”

“In order to combat the infection, it is vital that farmers ensure that the correct product is used at the most suitable time of year according to the life cycle of the parasite. It’s also advisable to discuss product selection with either your vet or suitably qualified person (SQP).”

HCC has funded and continue to fund PhD students who are carrying out research on liver fluke which has included a project prepared by Diana Williams, Philip Skuce and Sue Tongue in collaboration between University of Liverpool, Moredun Research Institute, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and SRUC which took place between 2013 and 2019. The research was looking at improving the control of liver fluke infection in cattle in the UK. The work looked at studying the parasite due to farmers’ dependency on medication to control the infection and the worry about resistance to the medication without anything new to replace.

One of the work packages explored by the project looked at controlling access to areas of potential snail habitat on farms by testing and treating sheep in spring using a product that targets adult fluke and reduces egg contamination of pasture. The study found that there is considerable confusion amongst farmers about when to treat and what product to use at specific times of year. Currently diagnostic testing is not practiced but this would inform farmers when to treat the animals, and would help in choice of product to use.

Reducing liver fluke and other parasites is a key focus of HCC’s Stoc+ project, part of the Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP). RMDP is a 5-year project as part of the welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Further information about liver fluke including prevention and treatment can be found in HCC’s booklet Controlling Liver Fluke on Welsh Farms as well as in the Sheep Health and Herd Health booklet.