A team of scientists will soon start working with sheep meat producers in NSW and Victoria to develop integrated worm control programs that will lift the limits imposed by worm infection on sheep meat production systems.
Led by the University of New England, the team will also include researchers from the University of Melbourne, Charles Sturt University, and the Central Livestock Health and Pest Authority.
“Worms represent the Australian sheep industry’s highest animal health cost,” said the leader of the project team, UNE’s Dr Lewis Kahn, “with most of that cost being in lost production rather than the cost of control. The value of sheep and their products has increased considerably, so losses due to worms have become greater. In the New England region, where sheep are susceptible to infection by barber’s pole worm, worms cost the industry about $11 per head every year.”
Supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, the project aims to develop regional worm control programs that will help to lift sheep meat production while slowing the development of drench resistance.
“At the moment, the sheep industry is faced with a growing incidence and severity of drench resistance,” said Dr Kahn, who is an Associate Professor in UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science. “And eliminating unnecessary drench treatments in the process of reducing reliance on drenches is also important in the context of consumer demands.”
Work will begin this spring on the three-year project, which will focus on the New England, Central West and South West regions of NSW and the North East and Western districts of Victoria. Initially involving nine farms, this number will increase to more than 50 over the course of the project.
“One aim of the project is to develop industry engagement with sheep health advisers and their clients so as to reduce the time it takes to translate research into on-farm adoption,” Dr Kahn said. “In the longer term, broader-scale adoption of the worm control programs will be aided by a delivery network and training materials being established by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (which is based on the UNE campus in Armidale) as part of the ‘WormBoss’ program developed over the past six years for the Australian wool industry.”