With research suggesting worm burdens in sheep can increase methane output by as much as one third, the sheep sector is being encouraged to take a proactive approach to parasite control to help achieve the best possible environmental standards.
Findings by SRUC and the Moredun Research Institute showed parasite infections in lambs can lead to a 33% increase in methane output and that parasitism is one of the top three livestock diseases which increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is cost effective to manage.
According to Eurion Thomas, European operations manager at Techion, despite current emissions from sheep being overexaggerated, the sector will need to act if the NFU’s aspiration for net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040, is to be achieved.
“While targets to further reduce GHG emissions may appear to be burdensome, there are some simple steps farmers can take that’ll help minimise emissions while also improving business profitability. This includes incorporating regular faecal egg counts (FEC) into routine flock management to increase the accuracy of worm control,” says Mr Thomas.
“Worms reduce performance, in particular feed conversion ratio (FCR) meaning animals take longer to finish at lower weights. In addition, the research shows animals with worms release more methane per day due to the upset they cause to the digestive system.
“Better parasite control can therefore reduce number of days to finishing, improving production efficiency and lowering methane emissions per unit of meat produced,” he says.
“The number of days to slaughter and FCR are also correlated to profit margins, providing an opportunity to improve the bottom line.”
Mr Thomas says one of the reasons endemic diseases such as worm burdens, are so detrimental to production efficiency and subsequently emissions, is because often, the disease has significantly impacted animal performance before it has been identified.
Regular faecal egg counts (FEC) and an accurate treatment programme is therefore crucial and the latest in diagnostic technology is making management quicker, easier and more effective.
“FECPAKG2 is the latest in image based, internet connected, FEC technology and means testing can be carried out virtually anywhere by anyone, including on-farm by the farmer,” says Mr Thomas.
“Because digital images of parasite eggs are produced, analysed and stored online, FECPAKG2 provides rapid results while offering greater quality control and auditability. This is encouraging more frequent testing and better decision making at farm level.”
A collaborative research project between Sainsbury’s and Techion3 showed accurate treatment of the right animals, with the right wormer, at the right time, improved daily liveweight gains (DLWG) while reducing wormer use in sheep by up to 50%.
“Addressing the environmental impact of red meat production is arguably one of the biggest challenges the sector faces and introducing FEC is one simple way farmers can proactively work towards this, while improving business profitability,” concludes Mr Thomas.