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Application of a body condition score index for targeted selective treatment in adult Merino sheep—A modelling study

Cornelius, M.P., Jacobson, C.ORCID: 0000-0001-9427-1941 and Besier, R.B. (2015) Application of a body condition score index for targeted selective treatment in adult Merino sheep—A modelling study. Veterinary Parasitology, 214 (1-2). pp. 125-131.

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This study aimed to establish whether sheep flock production losses due to nematode (worm) infections are typically greater in mature sheep selected for anthelmintic treatment at random compared to sheep selected for treatment based on low (poorer) body condition score (BCS). The study also examined the proportion of sheep in flocks that could be left untreated before production losses became evident, and projected worm egg pasture contamination. Sheep were monitored at two experimental sites in Western Australia (Mediterranean climate). Sheep were stratified for BCS, liveweight and faecal worm egg count (WEC) and allocated into treatment groups (treated or untreated), with equal numbers for each. Liveweight, BCS and WEC measurements were taken on 6 occasions at Farm A and 10 occasions at Farm B. Comparisons of sheep production (liveweight and BCS change) and pasture contamination potential (WEC) were conducted by generating “virtual flocks” of varying proportions sheep untreated (10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, and 50% untreated). For the comparison of the selection mode of sheep for treatment, the untreated sheep were either selected at random, or as the highest BCS animals at the commencement of observations. Univariate general linear models with least square difference post-hoc tests were used to examine differences between flocks for liveweight, BCS and WEC, and regression analysis was used to examine relationships between BCS and WEC, and liveweight and WEC. No difference in body weights was observed between flocks with varying proportions of ewes notionally left untreated at Farm B, and until more than 30% were left untreated at Farm A. There was no difference in BCS between flocks with varying proportions of ewes left untreated at either site. At no point were there differences in cumulative liveweight change or BCS between selection methods (BCS versus random) where the same proportion of sheep in virtual flocks were left untreated, suggesting that effort committed to individual BCS assessment would be of no benefit under these circumstances except for identifying low BCS sheep at risk of falling below critical limits associated with health or welfare risks. No consistent relationship between WEC and BCS or bodyweight was observed, indicating that BCS selection would have no lesser or greater impact on worm pasture contamination compared to random selection. Summer treatments based on a random selection index (with a minimum BCS limit), with up to 30% of adult sheep untreated can be expected to delay the development of anthelmintic resistance, with minimal adverse effect on sheep health or production.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2015 Elsevier B.V.
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