Whether you keep 50 sheep or 5,000, all farmers want to ensure that every animal within their flock is performing at its best, in peak condition and giving them optimum returns. For many farmers, especially those not running an organic system, that means routinely drenching the flock against parasites during the lambing season. This can prove costly, time-consuming and is often an ill-advised ‘blind’ approach, because they don’t have evidence of which sheep need drenching or know the efficacy of the wormer they use. It is an issue which is contributing to the increasing problem of livestock building up resistance to certain wormer treatments, which leads to animal health issues.
Faecal Egg Count Reduction Testing (FECRT) advice, available through the Farming Connect Advisory Service, is now providing farmers throughout Wales with the information they need to drench only those animals that need worming with the most effective wormer.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales, and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
The Rhug Estate in Denbighshire is an award-winning diverse business, recognised for embracing environmentally sustainable organic farming. The estate’s farm manager, Gareth Jones, follows animal health management protocols which ensure that their predominantly North of England Mules and Swaledales are kept in truly free-range organic conditions. Rhug is renowned world-wide for its self-contained field-to-plate operation, which follows the highest welfare standards for all its livestock.
The estate is ideally situated to grow the lush grass needed for a healthy natural diet. Lambs are finished on organic pastures sown with a selection of herbs and grasses, including chicory, cocksfoot, Timothy, red and white clover, as well as stubble turnips during the winter months.
Mr Jones emphasises that soils and grassland, alongside the condition, performance and productivity of all the sheep, are all monitored throughout the year.
“Receiving FECRT advice gives us the evidence we need to work proactively with our vets and we are able to administer the most effective product in the optimum dosage, which also reduces our costs.
“By taking regular FECs, we continue to drench for parasites only if absolutely essential, there is no routine ‘blanket’ approach,” said Mr. Jones.
In late summer 2020, Mr Jones joined forces with seven other sheep farmers within the region to make a group application for FECRT advice through the Farming Connect Advisory Service. Fully funded for groups of between three and eight farm businesses, or 80% funded for individual applications, this gives farmers the opportunity to look at the wormer resistance on their farms ahead of the next lambing season. An anonymised detailed report gives each of them the evidence and recommendations to then work with their own vets or advisers to address any challenges.
“We applied for the FECRT group advice to identify whether we had any wormer resistance issues at Rhug Estate, because as an organic enterprise, we have to prove that any worming is essential and also need to be aware if any of our stock are developing resistance to the wormers we use.
“We have a robust quarantine system for all replacement stock, to make sure we don’t introduce resistance onto the farm.
“This testing has helped identify our current situation and influenced our decision-making process going forward,” said Mr. Jones.
James Hadwin, the specialist beef and sheep adviser who leads on providing FECRT advice through the Advisory Service, works alongside Techion, a Wales-based company that provides the on-farm faecal sampling and laboratory testing service.
Mr Hadwin says that FECRT is beneficial for both smallholders and large landowners provided they are registered with Farming Connect.
Before the work can start, the first dung sample from the lambs is collected by the farmer in a specially provided pack, then sent to Techion UK labs in Aberystwyth to check if the FEC count is high enough to proceed. This is the first step to help farmers identify whether or not their sheep have a parasite issue.
This is followed by a certified technician visiting the farm to carry out sampling, weighing and worming of four groups of 20 lambs with the four different active wormer groups. Weighing scales are provided by the farmer, with both weigher and dosing gun calibrated by the technician. After seven days, the farmer returns the yellow wormer group samples. Techion returns to take samples from the remaining three groups, 14 days after dosing.
Gareth Jones explained that alongside implementing several management best practice procedures, all the farmers within the group were advised to work closely with their own vets to reduce the risk of building anthelmintic resistance by monitoring liveweight gain alongside regular FECs.
“This gives us all certainty that worming is required in the first instance, and by continually checking for effectiveness after any lambs are treated through a drench test, we can ensure that wormers are working effectively at different times of the year,” said Mr. Jones.
The Rhug Estate report also recommended using ‘teaser’ rams to help bring the sheep into season at the same time, making it easier to address any worming challenges during a tighter lambing window with lambs all being of a similar age.
“By sharing their FECRT report with farm vets or advisers, all farmers can be certain that they are doing everything possible to maintain the efficacy of any wormers used, and maintain or improve lamb performance to optimum levels.
“This joined-up approach will identify any issues before they impact on the performance of the sheep, and I would advise other sheep farmers to apply for this service ahead of their next lambing season,” said Mr. Jones.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.