Meat & Livestock News

Rising Drench Resistance Poses Serious Threat to New Zealand Sheep Farms

Healthy, pure bred Sheep on a farm

New data from Techion’s DrenchSmart service reveals a concerning rise in drench resistance on New Zealand sheep farms.

The service, which conducts faecal egg count reduction tests (FECRT), reports that the failure rate of triple drenches has increased from 15% to 27% over the past three years. This alarming trend threatens the productivity and sustainability of the sheep farming sector in New Zealand.

The Cost of Undetected Resistance

In 2020, Techion reported that undetected drench resistance cost the industry $48 million annually. The company’s latest data suggests that the cost could now be as high as $98 million for the year 2023. For an individual farm producing 4,000 lambs per year, this could translate to an estimated income loss of $81,200.

The Hidden Danger

According to Ginny Dodunski, manager of the Wormwise programme, farms using partially effective drenches may not notice the problem until it becomes severe.

“If a drench is only 70% effective, it leaves behind 30% of the worms, which then continue to breed and lay eggs,” she explains. This rapid breeding of resistant worms can lead to significant issues if not addressed.

Farmer Awareness and Production Losses

Greg Mirams, founder and CEO of Techion, emphasises that farmers can no longer assume that triple drenches will be effective. Many are unaware of the issue until they notice poor lamb performance or a decline in production. “Unfortunately, by the time farmers observe these losses, the drench has likely been failing for years,” Mirams adds.

Alternative Drench Options

The study also found that other types of drenches are not faring any better. BZ/Lev combinations failed on 50% of properties, while Lev/Aba combinations failed on 32%.

A Holistic Approach to Farming

Mirams suggests that the solution lies in adopting a whole-farm approach. This includes better nutrition, grazing management, and the use of a variety of tools to control parasites. Easy access to FEC data is crucial for making timely decisions and monitoring the results of these changes.

Economic and Environmental Implications

A 2017 study by Techion, in collaboration with UK retailer Sainsbury’s, found that undetected drench resistance could reduce carcass value by 14%. Gavin Hodgson, Sainsbury’s head of livestock, stresses the importance of understanding the effectiveness of treatments used. “This knowledge will help meet customer demand for transparency by reducing farming inputs,” he says.

The rising threat of drench resistance is a significant concern for the sheep farming industry in New Zealand. It is crucial for farmers to test the efficacy of the drenches they use and to adopt alternative measures to control parasites effectively.

Failure to do so could have severe economic and environmental repercussions for the sector.