Selective and on-demand drenching of lambs: Impact on parasite populations and performance of lambs

Selective and on-demand drenching of lambs: Impact on parasite populations and performance of lambs
Peer reviewed

Abstract

AIM: To determine whether drenching regimes for lambs by which a proportion (10%) of the heaviest animals was selectively left untreated, or animals are only drenched ‘on demand’ when faecal nematode egg counts (FEC) exceeded a threshold level, would result in measurable increases in parasite larval challenge in the autumn and/or decreases in the performance of lambs.
METHODS: A replicated study compared three drenching strategies in which mobs of lambs (n=360 in total) received either: a five-drench preventive programme, administered to all animals (Treatment 1); a five-drench preventive programme, but the 10% heaviest animals left untreated each time (Treatment 2); or drench treatments administered only when FEC exceeded 500 eggs per gram of faeces (epg) (Treatment 3). After the five-drench programme, animals in Treatments 1 and 2 were treated according to FEC as for Treatment 3. A triple-combination drench containing ivermectin, oxfendazole and levamisole, administered orally, was used for all treatments. There were nine farmlets, allowing three replicates of each treatment, in a completely randomised design. Parasite infestations on pasture were measured in autumn by pasture plucks, and worm burdens were monitored in tracer lambs, while the performance of lambs was assessed by liveweight gains, fleece weights, and body condition and dag scores.
RESULTS: Increased numbers of Haemonchus contortus and Trichostrongylus colubriformis larvae on pasture were found in the autumn on farmlets treating selectively or on-demand (Treatments 2 and 3). No differences were detected in other parasite species. Mean liveweight gains did not differ between treatments but some differences were detected between drenched and undrenched lambs in Treatment 2. Mean body condition and mean dag scores of lambs in Treatment 3 tended to be lower and higher, respectively, than those of lambs in Treatment 1; Treatment 2 was generally intermediate.
CONCLUSIONS: Drenching strategies for lambs designed to slow the development of anthelmintic resistance, by increasing the pool of susceptible worms available to dilute resistant survivors after treatment, resulted in increased numbers of H. contortus and T. colubriformis but not other species of parasite on pasture. The increased parasite challenge to lambs in the autumn was associated with small production losses, which may be acceptable to farmers wishing to implement such strategies. It is clear that further work is required on the interaction between management practices and the population dynamics of parasites, especially with regard to creating pools of susceptible genotypes to slow the development of drench resistance.
KEY WORDS: Sheep parasites, anthelmintic resistance, management, refugia

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