Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Pasture rewetting in the context of nature conservation shows no long-term impact on endoparasite infections in sheep and cattle

Background

Nature conservation with reduced drainage of pastures has been increasingly promoted in agriculture in recent years. However, moisture on pastures is a crucial factor for the development of free-living stages of many parasite species in ruminants. Hence, for the first time, we conducted a field study between 2015 and 2017 at the German North Sea coast to investigate the long-term effect of pasture rewetting (since 2004) on endoparasite infections in sheep and cattle.

Methods

We examined faecal samples of 474 sheep and 646 cattle from five farms in spring, summer and autumn each year for the presence of endoparasite infections. Animals were kept on conventionally drained, undrained and rewetted pastures. The association between pasture rewetting and endoparasite infection probability was analysed in generalized linear mixed models and including further potential confounders.

Results

Infection frequencies for gastrointestinal strongyles, Eimeria spp. and Strongyloides papillosus were significantly higher in sheep (62.9%, 31.7% and 16.7%) than in cattle (39.0%, 19.7% and 2.6%). Fasciola hepatica was detected with a frequency of 13.3% in sheep and 9.8% in cattle, while rumen fluke frequency was significantly higher in cattle (12.7%) than in sheep (3.8%). Nematodirus spp., lungworms (protostrongylids, Dictyocaulus viviparus), Moniezia spp., Trichuris spp. and Dicrocoelium dendriticum were identified in less than 7% of samples. Co-infection with more than three endoparasite taxa was present significantly more often in sheep than in cattle. We identified significant positive correlations above 0.2 for excretion intensities between S. papillosus with strongyles, Eimeria spp. and Nematodirus spp. in sheep and between strongyles and Nematodirus spp. in cattle. Pasture rewetting had no long-term effect on endoparasite infections, neither in sheep nor in cattle. Interestingly, F. hepatica infections decreased significantly in sheep and cattle from 2015 (10.9% and 13.9%) to 2017 (1.4% and 2.1%).

Conclusions

Pasture rewetting for nature conservation did not increase endoparasite infection probability in ruminants in the long term. This finding should be confirmed in ongoing studies aimed at further animal welfare parameters. The rapid decrease in F. hepatica infections over 3 years may suggest climatic impact or competition with rumen flukes in addition to potential anthelmintic treatment after feedback of the results to the farmers.

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