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Perceptions and actions of Dutch sheep farmers concerning worm infections
- Ploeger, H.W., Antonis, A.F.G., Verkaik, J.C., Vellema, P., Bokma-Bakker, M.H.
- Veterinary parasitology 2016 v.229 pp. 150-158
- Haemonchus contortus, Nematodirus battus, anthelmintics, ewes, farmers, farms, fecal egg count, flocks, forage, gastrointestinal system, genetic resistance, immune system, lambing, lambs, monitoring, nematode control, nematode infections, parasites, pasture management, pastures, quarantine, questionnaires, risk reduction, veterinarians, weaning
- Gastrointestinal (GI) nematode infections are considered among one of the toughest challenges sheep farmers face worldwide. Control still is largely based on the use of anthelmintics, but anthelmintic resistance is becoming rampant. To facilitate implementation of alternative nematode control strategies and to reduce anthelmintic usage, the purpose of this study was twofold: (i) to gain insight in common practices, knowledge gaps and perceptions of farmers regarding nematode control, and (ii) to provide foci of attention for improving parasite control practices and transfer of knowledge within the sheep husbandry. An internet-based questionnaire was made available to all sheep farmers pertaining to the year 2013, resulting in 450 entered questionnaires for analysis.The two most important nematodes mentioned, were Haemonchus contortus and, to a lesser extent, Nematodirus battus. Of all respondents, 25.6% said they did not have any worm problems. Of these, almost a third did notice clinical signs that can be related to worm infections and about three quarters did use anthelmintics. Overall, clinical symptoms mentioned by farmers matched the worm species they identified as the cause of problems.Ewes and lambs were treated up to 6 times in 2013. On average, ewes were treated 1.53 and lambs 2.05 times. Farmers who treated their ewes more often, also treated their lambs more often (P<0.001). Both ewes and lambs were frequently treated based on fixed moments such as around lambing, at weaning and before mating, rather than based on faecal egg counts. Treatments based on faecal egg counts were practiced, but on a minority of the farms (32.7%). The majority of the farms (75.6%) did not leave 2–5% of the sheep within a flock untreated. About 74% of farmers keep newly purchased animals quarantined for at least 10days, but some (13.4%) leave quarantined animals untreated nor check faecal egg counts. Of farmers who do treat their quarantined animals, just 12.6% check the efficacy of the treatment.Slightly over 40% of the respondents said they did not experience bottlenecks in parasite control. Yet, over half of these said having problems with worm infections, over half did see clinical signs related to worm infections and over three quarters used anthelmintics. Within the group of farmers experiencing difficulties in parasite control, the most often mentioned bottleneck concerned pasture management (75.8%). When asking farmers for solutions, 90% of all respondents indicated they are willing to adjust their pasture management. Farmers are also interested in other methods to reduce the risk of worm infections, such as possibilities to enhance the immune system of sheep in general (71%), to increase specific genetic resistance to worms and to apply anti-parasite forages, both about 40%.Results of this study gave the following potential foci of attention: (1) making complex scientific knowledge more accessible to farmers through simple tools and applicable in the daily farming process; (2) changing the mindset of farmers about their current worm control practices, i.e. breaking long-standing habits such as treating ewes and lambs at fixed moments rather than based on actual worm infection monitoring data; (3) demonstrating effective pasture rotation schemes on specific farms and using these in extension work; (4) making farmers more aware that checking anthelmintic efficacy is important; (5) improving quarantine procedures; (6) creating a wider array of applicable alternative control measures from which individual farmers can choose what fits them most; and finally, (7) improving mutual understanding among farmers, veterinary practitioners and parasitologists alike.