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Liver flukes in cattle

While all parasites pose a threat to profitability, there are some, like liver flukes, that can wreak havoc on livestock. Take precautionary measures against an infestation before this potentially harmful disease takes a bite out of your bottom line.

Found in 26 states

Liver fluke infestations have been identified as one of the top 10 beef-quality issues. Common in Gulf and Pacific Coast areas, liver flukes have now been found in 26 states. Their spread is due to the movement of cattle and hay across state lines.

Found on vegetation and ingested by grazing cattle, these microscopic creatures can migrate from the intestine to the liver, potentially causing hemorrhage or blood loss.

A National Beef Quality Audit conducted by Colorado State University, Oklahoma State University, and Texas A&M University revealed that 24.1% of cows and bulls in the U.S. suffered from liver fluke infestation at slaughter, which led to those livers being condemned and caused significant financial loss.

For example, it's estimated that in Florida alone liver flukes cost the beef industry $10 million each year. While specific estimates of financial impact on the entire industry are difficult to calculate, another report suggests that overall, inadequate parasite-control programs can cost producers as much as $200 per head each grazing season.

Direct damage to the liver isn't the only cost associated with this disease. An infestation can lead to decreased weight in weaning calves and slower growth, and reproductive development of heifers.

It also increases an infected animal's susceptibility to other diseases. “If cattle have parasites, health and development problems can be compounded,” says veterinarian Joe Dedrickson. “When there is liver damage, the immune system is also compromised, diminishing an animal's ability to handle illness, medications, or vaccines. Ultimately, it results in producers sacrificing profits.”

So how can you prevent liver flukes from affecting your profitability? Maintain a sound parasite-management program.

“Parasitism is something that can be managed,” says Dedrickson. “I recommend all producers work closely with their veterinarians to establish a complete parasite-control program to control parasites, including liver flukes.”

Research has shown that treatment of liver fluke problems sees a return on investment of $1.25 to $1.50 spent on treatment. Most dewormers, however, are not effective, so it's important to consult with your veterinarian.

“Not all products kill liver flukes, so you need to be sure you are carefully checking labels and consulting with your veterinarian,” says Dedrickson. “In today's economy, it is imperative to have all the right tools available to keep your herds at optimum health.”

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