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Focus on improving internal parasite management

04 April 2024

Key points:

  • A new analysis of how goat producers are managing internal parasites in their livestock has found there have been few innovations to make management easier since 2007, however there are opportunities to improve productivity and animal health options.
  • A range of key recommendations have been developed which if implemented, could lead to a significant improvement in both animal health and productivity in the goat industry.
  • The industry reference, MLA’s Going into Goats Module 9 – Parasite control, is being updated and will be released later in 2024.

An analysis of how goat producers are managing internal parasites in their livestock has found there have been few innovations to make management easier since 2007 when a similar investigation was last undertaken.

Therefore, industries will need to use remaining options carefully and focus more on practices and monitoring.

This recommendation results from the key findings of a recently completed project, ‘A review of internal parasite management and control in the Australian Goat Industry’, funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and produced by Colere Group.

The project was designed to provide a snapshot of goat internal parasite management on-farm and develop recommendations on how improvements could be made.

Key findings

Colere Group Managing Director Paul Meibusch, who led the project, said managing internal parasites in goats is complex, a theme reflected in the project’s key findings.

“Producer consultation shows that the goat industry is broad and diverse, comprising many good operators using best practice at the top end, but a long tail of producers who struggle to find sufficient information and assistance about best practice parasite management.

“The sustainable control of worms involves careful anthelmintic (drench) use as part of an integrated plan that should include a range of both chemical and non-chemical strategies.

Access challenges compounded by limited product range

Paul explains that producers have limited access to registered anthelmintics that work well enough, and many are turning to chemicals not registered for use in goats.

There are constraints limiting registered products available for use in goats, including anthelmintics, vaccines and non-chemical parasite treatments, currently and in the future.

“There are no new drench products on the horizon, and if there were, they probably won’t be registered in goats,” Paul said.

Many of the products currently registered already have high levels of resistance in the field and resistance is forming quickly to the new products which are accessed via vets.

“The data that allows the responsible and effective use of new (unregistered products) is limited and not easily shared. Combinations can work, but even then, monitoring and strategy is needed.

“The lack of clear direction and demonstrably successful strategies is leading some producers choosing not to treat their animals, potentially leading to production losses, poorer health outcomes, and death,” Paul said.

The team found that some producers treat their goats with home remedies lacking scientific evidence, unregistered products, and products not intended or unsuitable for these uses which puts animals’ health at risk.

Access to vets a ‘major problem’

The only way producers can legally use unregistered chemicals is via off-label prescription from vets, but producers report difficulties getting to vets, obtaining advice and withholding period information, and may face challenges due to the costs of vets.

“Access to vets is a major problem across the industry, as is the training of vets in goat knowledge.

“We have suggested the industry look to some novel approaches such as vouchers and rebates which would encourage producers to access and develop better plans.

“We have recommended the development of a vet information hub for goat medicine, with a focus on parasite control. This would provide vets who don’t treat goats often, with a range of quick and reliable scientifically based resources,” Paul said.

Producer knowledge

The project found a significant difference in levels of knowledge across the various demographics and sectors of industry.

“This is challenging to solve but necessary, if the industry wants broader social license and company support.

“There is excellent information available, with a few key gaps. The way the information is presented is critical for uptake. This is currently not working for large parts of the industry,” Paul said.

Further recommendations

Paul said the wide range of recommendations developed by the project team, if supported and implemented, could lead to a significant improvement in both animal health and productivity.

“The project found much of the industry needs to undertake more frequent testing of worm burdens using faecal egg counts (FECs) to help manage internal parasites.

“Testing of parasite burdens in animals and pastures relies primarily on old technology that is not easy for producers to use and there is a need for fast, cheap and easy-to-use testing.

“This is an opportunity to leverage some of the many breakthroughs in medical and scientific testing. In the meantime, however, producers need to develop on-farm strategies to get more from the current FEC testing being done.

“More sustainable anthelmintic use and best practice parasite control in goats also benefits the sheep industry by addressing the risk of resistant population development in goats transferring to sheep,” Paul said.

Other goat-specific recommendations that would fill knowledge gaps, leading to better and safer use of products and wider uptake include:

  • Obtaining more data about the use of Copper oxide wire particle use (COPW) in goats on Australian pastures to better understand the safety profile of the product. COPW may offer a useful break in Haemonchus contortus (barber’s pole worm) development and pasture burden.
  • Investigate the role of condensed tannins and other products from browsed shrubs to understand how producers can better utilise them strategically in their production systems.
  • Obtain more data around the use of Barbervax in Australian goat populations, possibly leading to a co-produced label claim for minor species.
  • Improve producer access to existing and new technology; lab-based rapid multiplexed roundworm test differentiating between Haemonchus contortus and other gastrointestinal roundworms.
  • Every five years, commission an anthelmintic study in goats, to build a database of efficacy, safety and residue depletion of present and upcoming anthelmintics that aren’t registered but are being used in goats. Publish all studies for open access so vets and producers have access to the information.

Updated Going into Goats Module

The project team has updated the industry reference, MLA’s Going into Goats Module 9 – Parasite control which will be released later in 2024.

The team has also developed a series of slides to support the work of ParaBoss, the national authority for sheep, goats and cattle parasite control in Australia, providing information on parasites and their control through its suite of products.