Dairy cows feeding on fresh grass, whether in pastures or cow houses, are increasingly infected by liver fluke, a parasitic flatworm. Liver fluke disease (also known as liver rot or fascioliasis) leads to reduced resistance, retarded growth and lower milk production. Furthermore, the livers of infected animals are unfit for human consumption. The intermediate host and vector of this parasite is the liver fluke snail, which is mostly found on peat and clay soils. Raised groundwater levels in many areas are contributing to the spreading of this snail and hence of the disease. Read more about the growing problem of liver fluke in dairy farming.
Liver fluke difficult to control
The possibilities to control liver fluke disease are limited. Chemicals are not allowed for treating dairy cattle, even during their 'dry period', because of the risk of residues in the milk. Furthermore, the parasite is increasingly resistant to the chemical agents used for controlling the disease in sheep and young cattle, reducing treatment efficacy. Prevention is key, but more research is needed to develop and test preventative measures.
Collaborative research on liver fluke disease
The Louis Bolk Institute contributes to two research projects to investigate sustainable ways of controlling liver fluke disease. The first is the collaborative project Integral Animal Health: Liver fluke disease and gastro-intestinal worms (2014-2016), conducted together with WUR Livestock Research, OrgANIMprove, PPP-Agro, Natuurweide (Dutch association of organic dairy farmers) and individual farmers. The aim of this project is to assess liver fluke prevalence on individual dairy farms and to develop targeted control measures to reduce infection risk. For example, in 2014 we developed and tested a tool allowing dairy farmers to evaluate liver fluke prevalence and risk factors on their farms and to gain insight into possible measures to prevent liver fluke infection. The second project is the European ProPara project, in which the Louis Bolk Institute works together with various European partners, including the French INRA and Swiss FIbL. The aim of this project is to develop, share and disseminate knowledge on gastro-intestinal worms in ruminants. Project activities include development of strategies and tools for controlling these parasites. The role of the Louis Bolk Institute is to assess on-farm risk factors to prevent liver fluke infection. Our input will be used by project partners to optimise their monitoring and decision support tools. The ProPara project is part of the Core Organic Plus Programme.
Research results were published in 2017 in a brochure (in Dutch).
Life cycle stages of liver fluke