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The effect of grazing management on livestock exposure to parasites via the faecal-oral route

Smith, L.A., Marion, G., Swain, D.L., White, P.C.L., Hutchings, M.R.
Preventive veterinary medicine 2009 v.91 no.2-4 pp. 95-106
livestock, parasites, rotational grazing, grazing management, forage, feces, nutrient intake, disease transmission, spatial distribution, temporal variation
In grazing systems, heterogeneous distributions of forage resources and faeces result in localised accumulations of nutrients and parasites (both macroparasites and microparasites), creating trade-offs between the costs of exposure to infestation or infection and the benefits of nutrient intake. Each contact between livestock and faeces in the environment is a potential parasite/pathogen transmission event. Thus, herbivores must make foraging decisions in complex environments which will affect their intake of both nutrients and parasites. However, the pattern of forage and faecal resources in agricultural environments will also be affected by the grazing management system in place. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of grazing management on the risk of infection/infestation to livestock. We used a spatially explicit individual based stochastic foraging model to simulate livestock contact (both grazing and investigative) with faeces in the environment. The model was parameterised to simulate cattle grazing under three types of grazing management: set stock (i.e. where sward growth and cattle intake are in equilibrium in a single field); a two pasture rotation grazing system with increasing number of rotations; and a rotational grazing system with two rotations and increasing subdivisions of the pasture. Overall the amount of cattle contact with faecal-contaminated patches was similar in both set stocking and rotational grazing scenarios, suggesting no difference in the risk of infection or infestation between the different systems. However, the timing and absolute amounts of peak contact varied greatly indicating that different grazing management systems expose livestock to risks of different types of parasites at different times of the grazing season. Intensive rotational systems with small pasture blocks (especially the first grazing period) maximised livestock contact with fresh faeces, and thus exposure to microparasites (e.g. bacterial pathogens). Livestock re-entering pasture blocks in rotational systems and set stocked livestock had the highest contact with old faeces and thus have a greater risk of macroparasite transmission (gastrointestinal nematodes). This study highlights how livestock management affects the highly dynamic interaction between livestock and distributions of parasites in the environment and thus the levels of livestock exposure to parasites and pathogens via the faecal-oral route.