Five things to do on a rainy weekend.
1. Fluke the calves and young stock 2. Fluke the bull 3. Fluke the lambs
4. Fluke the rams – and for a bit of variety…5. Dehorn a six month old calf

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Fasciola hepatica – liver fluke

Let me explain.

We have wet land. One of the problems on land such as ours is a parasite called liver fluke. I have  a derogation from the Soil Association to carry out routine drenching of my stock with a flukicide.
In organic farming systems we are careful to encourage stock to build up a natural resistance to worms and don’t carry out routine worming. The practice of routine worming has had dire consequences over the years in breeding for worms with a resistance to wormers. On my farm I carry out a faecal egg count before I worm (to show if there is a problem or not) and one after worming to make sure there isn’t a resistance building up.
Liver fluke is different kettle of fish and animals to not build a resistance. Sheep are more adversely affected than cattle, though on land such as this I’ve known people nearly lose cattle as a result of fluke. Drenching a few weeks after the cattle are housed is an optimum time.
The life cycle of the liver fluke is very complicated. Here’s a simplified version.

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1. The adult liver fluke in the liver of its host produces eggs which pass onto the pasture
2. These eggs hatch in warm damp conditions to produce mobile larvae (miracidia) which then infect a particular species of snail
3. The larvae multiply within in the snail and develop into another swimming stage (cercaria), which emerge from the snail and settle on the pasture
4. These then develop into a highly tolerant non-mobile stage (metacercaria) that can survive for at least a year. Once eaten by the cow these hatch and migrate to the liver…and so the cycle begins again. The snail is the vital ingredient – no snail, no fluke. Fluke can also affect humans.

Drenching is a time consuming business. We separate off the different groups of cattle. Each group is run down the cattle race separately, where they are individually held in the cattle crush. Some strong, able body (Robert) holds the animals head up high and I administer the drench. Not too bad with the youngsters, but with a bull who weighs in at well over a tonne it’s a different matter. Mr Big – the bull – scarily flexes the side of the race and is almost too tall and wide to fit into our crush. To crank his head up we needed two halters and the use of his nose ring. I would love to have taken some photos but I was too busy making sure we, and Mr Big, survived to tell the tail. We did and so did he.

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