Fluke mapping using eDNA to inform development of sustainable control measures

With high prevalence levels of liver and rumen fluke apparent across Wales, alongside evidence of increasing infection risk patterns, it is ever more important that new diagnosis and control strategies are put in place to combat this. This is especially relevant as UK winters become warmer and wetter.

A group of six beef and/or sheep farmers from around Aberystwyth who have all experienced similar fluke issues are taking part in this two year project. They will be working with IBERS and Ystwyth Veterinary Practice to investigate whether fluke mapping using environmental DNA (eDNA) can aid them reduce fluke levels on farms. This technology can identify the presence of mud snails infected with fluke by detecting their DNA in water which has the greatest potential to infect livestock with parasites. As not all wet areas are present with infected mud snails therefore by knowing which areas of fields poses risk it will be possible to reduce contact between livestock and those areas by fencing them off, or by improving the drainage.

During the Autumn and Winter of 2020 and 2021 eDNA sampling will be carried out on all six farms to identify the low and high fluke risk areas and then it will be incorporated into a field level map of each farm. They will then work with their vet to work out cost effective ways of reducing fluke burden which could include:

  • Ensure livestock going out to grass are not shedding fluke eggs by treating with a flukecide which will kill adult fluke. Targeted treatment of animals with adult flukicide such as oxyclozanide to limit fluke eggs contaminating mud snail habitats at this key period.
  • Rolling poached areas, fixing leaky troughs and improving drainage.
  • Move animals to drier parts of the farm or exclude stock from particularly wet areas.
  • Rotational grazing to limit vulnerable animals, such as lambs, from grazing high risk areas.
  • Regular faecal testing and treatment to limit egg shedding
  • Temporary fencing of high risk areas to limit contact between livestock and fluke risk areas
  • Topping(cutting) of rushes which helps by covering muddy areas with cut rushes thereby limiting habitats for the mud snails.

The project will hopefully demonstrate how eDNA technology and farm mapping can identify recurring fluke problem areas on farms. This will allow practical preventative measures to be taken to reduce liver and rumen fluke on livestock farms, lessening the risks of resistance issues.