“There’s a risk farmers will have to give up sheep”
Eight Lockerbie sheep farmers have got together with two local vet practices and a facilitator from the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) to try and find alternative ways to control liver fluke, which is threatening farmers’ livelihoods in the local area.
The liver fluke parasite spends part of its lifecycle in a mud snail, which thrives in the increasingly wet conditions of parts of the UK, including Lockerbie. The parasite causes liver damage, poor growth and conception rates and can be fatal to livestock, particularly grazing sheep. “Many farmers are seeing losses in double figures,” says vet Callum Cameron.
“There are increasing problems with the liver fluke parasite becoming resistant to the main treatment - triclabendzole,” says the RISS group’s facilitator, SAC Consulting vet Heather Stevenson, “and farmers becoming more reliant on other, less effective treatments.
Picture credit: Neil Ferguson
"We either carry on as we are until other treatments start to fail, or we find solutions..."
“We can either carry on as we are until other treatments start to fail, or we can find alternative ways to manage it. This problem isn’t going to go away and there won’t be one single solution. Farming sheep is becoming increasingly challenging and one farmer has already sold his flock.”
RISS provides a facilitator to help farmers trial and test ideas and come up with a project plan to solve a common problem. Callum Cameron of the Ark Vet Centre is a group member and says anything that brings farmers together is a good idea. “Farming can be a lonely business, and looking at each others’ enterprises and sharing ideas helps in very many ways.
Picture: Facilitator Heather Stevenson
“This is fact-finding group. As vets we’re concerned with animal health, and we want our local farmers to be as productive and efficient as possible, particularly in the current climate.”
After their first meeting in May the group listed several areas they wanted to know more about, including drainage, grazing management, better targeted treatments and longer housing periods.
In an August meeting they invited SRUC’s upland expert Davy McCracken and discussed Agri-Environment Schemes, possible funding for fencing and drainage and whether planting trees could help drain boggy ground.
Planned meetings until December include an on-farm look at mud snails ("Because do we even know what they look like?!" - Callum Cameron) and grazing management, a Q&A with four pharmaceutical companies and a visit from a Norwegian vet to discuss the pros and cons of slatted floor systems for sheep.
Facilitator Heather will then help the farmers draw up their own action plans.