BMPs for Sustainable Parasite Control

Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, Louisiana State University. ( Louisiana State University )

For many years, the biggest questions producers faced in controlling internal parasites related to timing. Available anthelmintics, in delivery forms including injections, pour-ons, oral pastes and free-choice minerals offered high levels of efficacy, and depending on the locations and production systems, producers planned deworming schedules and chose products accordingly.

Today, however, with most important nematode parasite species affecting cattle becoming increasingly resistant to at least one class of anthelmintic drug, veterinarians and producers need to think about more than timing to maintain sustainable programs that protect drug efficacy. Several presenters discussed strategies for parasite control in the face of drug resistance during the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference in St. Louis.

Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, from Louisiana State University, outlined the evolution of best management practices (BMPs) in parasite control, as the industry struggles to adapt to the realities of drug-resistant parasites. “We don’t have good solutions,” she says, “but we’ll have big problems if we don’t do something.”

Navarre reminded veterinarians that viable parasite-control programs need to minimize economic losses and health problems including:

  • Decreased calf weaning weights.
  • Sub-standard fertility and reproduction.
  • Reduced milk production.
  • Compromised immunity.
  • Clinical disease from parasitism.

Impacts of parasitism and drug resistance on individual ranches can vary widely depending on location, management, weather, other diseases, nutrition and other variables, making diagnostics and strategic planning important for tailoring programs at the herd level. In areas affected by drought for example, parasite eggs can build up in manure while remaining dormant. When wet conditions return, the larvae all emerge, migrate onto plants and infect cattle.

Producers also should monitor the effects of their management systems. Intensive rotational grazing programs for example, can increase the level of parasite infection in the short term because cattle graze closer to the ground. Over time though, the long rest periods for individual paddocks can reduce parasite populations as the worm larvae die off without the presence of cattle to serve as hosts.

Parasite infection and tolerance also can vary significantly between individual animals on the same pastures, suggesting genetic selection could provide a non-drug tool for minimizing parasite-related losses. That selection pressure has not occurred in most herds though. “We’ve selected cattle under the influence of effective drugs,” Navarre says.

Navarre favors use of refugia strategies along with fecal egg counts and fecal egg count reduction (FECR) tests for sustainable and effective parasite-control programs.  Refugia refers to the practice of leaving some animals untreated to maintain a population of worms fully susceptible to treatments, as a means of slowing emergence of drug-resistant worm populations. Fecal egg count tests can help determine when to treat and which animals would benefit most, while FECR tests help assess and monitor efficacy of treatment programs.

In a refugia program, producers might, for example, treat all calves, replacement heifers and bulls while leaving mature cows untreated. Stocker operators could base treatment decisions on fecal egg counts, or use weight as a decision tool, leaving the heaviest 10% of a group untreated.

Navarre recommends veterinarians and producers work together to incorporate a variety of practices to limit parasite pressure while slowing development of drug resistance.

  • Use non-drug management practices such as good nutrition, stress reduction, colostrum management and vaccines to enhance immunity to other diseases.
  • Don’t buy resistant worms. Deworm new arrivals with more than one class of anthelmintic and hold imported cattle in a drylot for at least two to four days.
  • Use refugia in pastures, animals or both. Don’t deworm all animals before turnout onto clean pastures.
  • Don’t deworm cows over five years of age.
  • Avoid using the same pastures for young cattle in successive years.
  • If using generic drugs, select those whose sponsors have published data to back up their efficacy.
  • Use pour-on products sparingly, particularly for control of external parasites.
  • Use the full label dose for maximum efficacy.
  • Consider using concurrent treatments with at least two different classes of anthelmintics along with refugia.
  • Monitor fecal egg counts.
  • Monitor performance measures such as weight gains as indicators of overall health.

Looking ahead, Navarre says the industry could develop better diagnostic methods to guide treatment decisions, biological or other non-drug controls and even EPDs for selecting parasite resistance or tolerance. But for now, the multi-faceted issue of parasite control, particularly in the face of drug-resistant worms, requires a multi-pronged approach.

For more on parasite-control strategies, including concurrent treatments and refugia, see these articles from BovineVetOnline:

You Can Delay Drug Resistance in Parasites

Control External Parasites, Prevent Disease

Refine Your Deworming Program

Parasite Control: Kill most, protect some

Resist Resistance