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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Rain Brings Worm Threat

Posted by Bestprac on Apr 07 2010

Heavenly blessings often come with a curse.

On the Tablelands country and more widely through areas of NSW and Queensland that have received recent high rainfall, the curse is the annual threat of Barbers Pole worm outbreaks.

Prof James Rowe, CEO of the Sheep CRC, says “You can almost hear the grass growing around Armidale. Unfortunately, the Haemonchus contortus worms are also rapidly developing.

“These will infect sheep over the next few weeks and we expect farmers will see widespread productivity losses unless preventative action is taken.”

Until now, most graziers have relied on a best-guess to determine the level of Barber’s Pole worms with only a small proportion of mobs tested using worm egg counts to provide a worm-presence ‘warning light’.

However Prof Rowe says with the Haemonchus Dipstick Test kit now on the market, livestock producers can simply, quickly and cheaply monitor their mobs.

Launched in time for the summer Barbers Pole onslaught, the Dipstick is quickly proving its worth for farmers.

New England grazier, Gerard Stephen, ‘Warrane’ says it’s a ground-breaking invention.

“I like to say that the worms have got smarter over the years, but the Dipstick puts us farmers back in front. It takes all the guesswork out of Barbers Pole control.

“We’re using the kit as a rapid monitoring tool to show when the sheep need drenching, rather than when I think they could do with a drench.

“I run five ‘sentinel’ sheep mobs into a corner, collect some dung samples, zip back to the shed and test the samples in under an hour.

“The test strip is scaled from 1 to 5; I record each reading on the calendar to track infection levels and if I get a reading of 3, that’s my action trigger to use an effective drench and move the mob to a clean paddock.”

While many farms will be able to monitor each mob using the Dipstick, Mr Stephens uses ‘sentinel’ mobs on his 25,000 sheep, finding it more practical to monitor select mobs from among five classes of sheep: hoggets; wethers; rams; and two groups of ewes and lambs.

“I’ve picked the paddocks where we’ve had historical Barbers Pole problems, and test the mobs in those paddocks to get an overall indicator or barometer of the sheep and worm status."

He says he’s ramped-up mob sampling to weekly since the rain over the Christmas-New Year period.

“When a Barbers Pole outbreak wave is really on after good rain, it can be horrendous and cause huge production losses.

“Farmers have to be spot-on with drench timing and in the past many of us have acted too late, and with 25,000 head here we just can’t get around and drench that many in a day.

“We need to be two steps ahead of the worms. Worm egg counting is still very useful – we need it to identify effective drenches and confirm worm species – but it takes a week or so to get the results. And that’s time that the worms can creep up on us.”

Mr Stephen also points to the longer-term benefits of rapid Barbers Pole monitoring.

“Our stock of effective drenches is getting lower. Everyone’s mum says ‘prevention is better than cure’, and they’re right - we need to move away from curing infected sheep and towards preventing infection.

“By watching infection levels, I can move sheep out of a paddock that’s causing concern and avoid having to treat them with another drench until they actually need it. That’s good for our drench stocks, and better for the budget.”

Developed by the Sheep CRC and produced and distributed by Merial and Ancare, the Haemonchus Dipstick Test kit has been released in time for Barbers Pole outbreaks in the risk areas of NSW and Queensland, and in the southern higher rainfall zones including Victoria and south-west WA.

The kit is fully self-contained:

  • Detects Haemonchus worm burdens up to one week before faecal worm egg counts
  • Easily accessible and able to be stored on-farm
  • No special skills are required
  • Reliable, accurate, fast and inexpensive
  • Minimises unnecessary drenching and sheep loss
  • All components and instructions are included, along with enough materials for 50 tests.

Ancare’s Territory Manager for Northern NSW, Matt Falconer, Glenn Innes, says the key to the Dipstick’s effectiveness is identifying immature worms in sheep.

“These worms cause damage to the sheep before they mature and shed eggs.

“This test detects the amount of blood in faecal samples. As Barbers Pole worms feed in the gut, some blood passes through the digestive tract.

“The test is sensitive to haemoglobin (a product of blood breakdown) and changes colour according to the amount of blood in the sample.

“The colour of the Dipstick will indicate if drenching is required, before the worms start shedding eggs. Simple, quick and effective.”

'Warrane' key facts:

Location: North-west of Armidale, New England, NSW
Rainfall: summer dominant, 800mm average annual
Size: 7,200 hectares
Flock: 25,000 ewes and lambs, hoggets, wethers and rams
Enterprises: self-replacing superfine merino flock and 1st-cross lamb production

 

Last changed: Feb 08 2012

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