The wettest summer for many years has led to a high risk of liver fluke infection in sheep across large areas of the UK, including the North, West and Central Scotland, West Wales and Cornwall, while Eastern Scotland and parts of North and South-West England are at medium risk of liver fluke.

Higher than average rainfall from May to October has created the ideal conditions for the liver fluke’s intermediate host, the mud snail to thrive, leading to an increased number of infective larvae on pasture. This, coupled with 2017’s long grazing season on pasture, has led to greater fluke burdens in pastured animals.

Sheep are most at risk of acute fluke disease in the autumn. This disease is caused by migrating juvenile liver fluke. Sheep may simply be found dead with no prior signs of illness.

However, chronic liver fluke disease caused by the presence of adult fluke, peaks in the late winter/early spring. Affected sheep may show varying signs of infection, such as progressive loss of condition, weakness, lowered appetite, emaciation, a brittle open fleece, the development of anaemia and low blood protein levels, characterised by pale mucous membranes, and submandibular oedema (‘bottle jaw’).

“Farmers in high fluke risk regions of the country who have already administered a first treatment for acute fluke earlier in the year, may be able to delay a second triclabendazole (TCBZ) treatment until January," said Sioned Timothy, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health’s ruminant technical manager,

However, where TCBZ-resistance has been confirmed, or suspected, farmers should consider the use of either closantel or nitroxynil based products, which are active on the late immature stages of fluke, from 7-8 week after infection, she said.

The aim of any spring treatments should be to remove any surviving adult flukes and prevent pasture contamination by fluke eggs reducing the risk of disease later in the year. In these cases, choosing an alternative to TCBZ is advised in all cases, to reduce the likelihood of resistance.

Farmers in lower risk fluke regions, such as the east of Scotland and England, should consult their veterinary surgeon about fluke control measure before deciding whether treatment is necessary. Faecal egg samples from around 10 animals will identify patent fluke infection acquired during the autumn and indicate the need to treat the flock.

Mild, wet winters also increase the risk of Parasitic Gastroenteritis (PGE). Outbreaks of trichostrongylosis in store and replacement lambs, as well as gimmers, is not uncommon, hence farmers are advised to continue to monitor worm egg counts on pooled faecal samples where there is a risk of disease. Heavy infestations are typically associated with black foetid diarrhoea (black scour) and rapid weight loss.

Sheep scab and lice can be present during housing. The similarities in the symptoms for both conditions mean that correct diagnosis is important before deciding on treatment. Farmers therefore should consult their vet or local animal health adviser for information if unsure.

Sheep scab is caused by the presence of psoroptic mites and infection can be very debilitating leading to significant loss of condition, secondary infections and eventually death if not treated. However, Scottish sheep farmers do now qualify for free scab testing – see article on page 26.