Faecal egg count reduction testing is an essential part of good animal husbandry at the famous Rhug Estate organic farm

James Hadwin, Advisory Service Chartered Advisor (left) and Gareth Jones, Rhus Estate Farm Manager (right)

WHETHER you keep 50 sheep or 5,000, all farmers want to ensure that every animal in their herd is performing at their best, in optimum conditions and giving them optimum yields. For many farmers, especially those who don’t use an organic system, this means spraying the flock regularly for pests during the lambing season. This can be expensive, time consuming and is often a misguided ‘blind’ approach as they don’t have evidence on the sheep that need dipping or don’t know the effectiveness of the dewormer they are using. they use. This is a problem that contributes to the growing problem of livestock developing resistance to certain deworming treatments, leading to animal health issues.

Fecal Egg Count Reduction Testing (FECRT) advice, available through the Farming Connect advice service, now provides farmers across Wales with the information they need to only water animals that need deworming with the most effective dewormer.

Farming Connect is offered 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 diversified business recognized for its embrace of environmentally sustainable organic farming. The estate’s farm manager, Gareth Jones, follows animal health management protocols that ensure their mules and swaledales, mostly from the north of England, are kept in organic, truly free-range conditions. Rhug is renowned the world over for its self-sustaining farm-to-fork operation that upholds the highest welfare standards for all of its livestock.

The estate is ideally situated to grow the lush grass necessary for a healthy natural diet. Lambs are finished on organic pasture sown with a selection of grasses and grasses including chicory, cocksfoot, timothy, red and white clover, as well as stubble turnips during the winter months .

Mr Jones points out that soils and grasslands, as well as the condition, performance and productivity of all sheep, are all monitored throughout the year.

“Receiving advice from FECRT gives us the evidence we need to work proactively with our veterinarians and we are able to administer the most effective product at the optimal dosage, which also reduces our costs.

“By taking regular FECs we continue to inundate ourselves with parasites only if absolutely essential, there is no routine ‘blanket’ approach,” Jones said.

In late summer 2020, Mr Jones teamed up with seven other local sheep farmers to apply in bulk for FECRT advice through the Farming Connect advice service. Fully funded for groups of three to eight farm businesses, or 80% funded for individual applications, this gives farmers the opportunity to examine worm resistance on their farms before the next lambing season. A detailed anonymized report gives each of them the evidence and recommendations to then work with their own vets or advisors to meet any challenges.

“We sought advice from the FECRT group to determine if we had any worm resistance issues at Rhug Estate because as an organic business we need to prove that any dewormer is essential and we also need to know if any of our stocks is 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 to the farm.

“These tests helped identify our current situation and influenced our decision-making going forward,” Jones said.

James Hadwin, the specialist beef and sheep adviser who leads the provision of FECRT advice through the advisory service, works alongside Techion, a Wales-based company that provides the faecal sampling service and on-farm laboratory analysis.

Mr Hadwin says FECRT is beneficial to both smallholders and large landowners provided they are registered with Farming Connect.

Before work can begin, the first sample of manure from the lambs is collected by the farmer in a specially provided pack and then sent to Techion UK laboratories in Aberystwyth to check if the FEC count is high enough to continue. This is the first step in helping farmers determine whether or not their sheep have a pest problem.

Next, a certified technician visits the farm to sample, weigh and deworm four groups of 20 lambs with the four different groups of active dewormers. The scales are provided by the farmer, with weigher and dosing gun calibrated by the technician. After seven days, the farmer returns the samples from the yellowworm group. Techion returns to collect samples from the remaining three groups, 14 days after administration.

Gareth Jones explained that alongside implementing several best management practice procedures, all farmers in the group were asked to work closely with their own veterinarians to reduce the risk of developing resistance to anthelmintics by monitoring the liveweight gain alongside regular FECs.

“It gives us confidence that the dewormer is needed in the first place, and by continuously checking the effectiveness after treating the lambs with a dip test, we can ensure that the dewormers are working effectively at different times of the year” , Mr. Jones said.

The Rhug Estate report also recommended using “teaser” rams to help bring the sheep into season at the same time, which makes it easier to deal with worming issues during a tighter lambing window, with the lambs all of the same age.

“By sharing their FECRT report with veterinarians or farm advisors, all farmers can be confident that they are doing everything possible to maintain the effectiveness of all dewormers used and to maintain or improve lamb performance at levels optimal.

“This joint approach will identify any issues before they impact sheep performance, and I would advise other sheep farmers to request this service before their next lambing season,” Mr Jones said.

Farming Connect is offered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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