How prevalent was liver fluke in Irish cattle in 2017?

The extent to which Irish beef cattle are suffering from liver fluke, liver abscesses and pneumonia has been identified by Animal Health Ireland (AHI).

Speaking on behalf of AHI, at a recent Teagasc, Kepak and AHI beef event, Catherine Carty – a European specialist in bovine health management – outlined how the Beef HealthCheck programme can be beneficial to farmers and the Irish beef industry as a whole.

The Beef HealthCheck programme was established by AHI in conjunction with Meat Industry Ireland (MII) and the meat processors. It aims to provide farmers with information obtained on the production line in factories. This is then fed back to farmers and used positively in terms of herd health.

Catherine said: “If you’re not killing cattle, you’re probably not familiar with this. However, hopefully in the future its not just the farmer finishing the animal that will get the feedback. Hopefully it will go further back the production chain.

Approximately 70% of the cattle killed in Ireland have their results recorded.

“The veterinary inspectors on the line have a touch screen system. When the livers and lungs come past, they grade them in terms of damage. They also identify live fluke present and damage due to abscesses or pneumonia,” she explained.

“We can only examine faecal egg counts in live animals, so this factory data from when the animal is slaughtered is really invaluable,” she added.

However, Catherine stressed that a full post-mortem is not carried out and that it is only focused on what is logistically possible in the factories. The results are also available free of charge from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

Research

An AHI study found that approximately 11% of all of the young bulls, steers and heifers slaughtered in 2017 had suffered from liver fluke over their lifetime, while about 3-4% of these animals presented with live liver fluke infestations at slaughter.

Furthermore, approximately 3-5% of these animals were found to have liver abscesses, while just under 4% suffered lung damage from pneumonia.

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Source: Animal Health Ireland

On this, Catherine said: “Across all groups of animals – heifers, steers and young bulls – liver damage is the most common issue. However, liver damage is much more common than actually finding live fluke.

“Fluke is really the big one. Liver fluke has detrimental effects on all cattle. They never get immune to liver fluke and they are always susceptible to it. It is costing the industry millions.”

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Catherine also stated that animals with an active fluke infection have a reduced liveweight gain, reduced carcass quality and take approximately 80 days longer to finish. She also outlined that the meat yield is reduced somewhere in the region of 20%.

“The liver has some powers of regeneration. However, if it gets hit bad enough with liver fluke, that is probably irreversible. Liver abscesses tend to be fairly sporadic. However, its not a group level problem.

“This can sometimes depend on the finishing diet. They most often come about as a secondary result of rumen acidosis. However, it is not as common as the fluke issue,” she concluded.