Reducing drench inputs on farm

“Can this be achieved?” you may ask, because if you do not drench your lambs regularly, they will go backwards and you will lose money!

Maybe not necessarily. A report just out from the UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, found that monitoring of faecal egg counts (FECs) by their suppliers (New Zealand farmers) using the latest technology (FEKPAKG2) achieved some amazing results, with some NZ farmers able to reduce their drench use by 30-50% without compromising their animal performance at all.

The first question is, “what is FEKPAKG2 and what can it do for you?”

FEKPAKG2 is a modernised version of traditional faecal egg counting that can be carried out on farm without the need for a microscope or any particular individual skills. Once faecal samples are collected, they are prepared and put into a microimaging unit. This then takes a photo and submits the photo via the internet to a group of trained technicians who count the samples and report back to you via email. The system is easy to use and fully auditable because the photos can be checked by others to ensure accuracy of counting is consistently achieved.

Vetlife has purchased units and has set up hubs in Alexandra and Little River. What they do is automate the hard part of faecal egg counting by removing the laborious effort of peering down a microscope and trying to make out what is there. Samples still need to be prepared and submitted, but after that, you just wait for the results. With the process somewhat streamlined, some of the barriers to more regular faecal egg counting are removed, and that is where the Sainsbury`s project comes in.

Farmers taking part in the project and carrying out more regular faecal egg counting, found that they could make more informed decisions about the appropriate timing for drenching their lambs. Some farmers reduced their drench usage by 30-50% without compromising animal performance. Many found that drench resistance was far more widespread than they thought, so they were better informed as to what drenches to use.

Reducing drench usage is a powerful tool in slowing the onset of drench resistance, and regular faecal egg counting allows this to be achieved. An interesting point to note is that no farmer in the study reported a reduction in lamb performance due to altering their parasite control and drenching timings following faecal egg counting. On many case farms, lamb and stock performance improved significantly over the course of the project.

Case study farmers found their behaviours changing, with many submitting up to 20 or more samples per year. FEKPAKG2 forms part of a more informed decision-making process for sustainable parasite control.

New technology is often difficult to adopt because many people can find change difficult. But this change, by removing some of the barriers to faecal egg counting, opens up the door for sheep and cattle farmers alike (yes, it can be used in cattle as well) to be better informed about when they actually need to drench. Drench to need, not necessarily to the calendar, and your drench inputs will reduce.