Merino wool production, Prime lamb production, cattle and cropping
A return to strategic summer drenching as part of a comprehensive worm management program is combating resistance issues on Simon Foster’s Campbell Town property.
Simon runs a 7780-hectare property with his wife Penny and two full-time staff, and says a return to summer drenching is bringing good results.
“We used to give two summer drenches, going back 25 years ago, and then we experimented with not doing that,” says Simon. “Now we’ve come back around.”
By reducing contamination during summer, Simon’s been able to reduce drenching in autumn and winter.
But it’s not a total return to the past - Simon now bases his drenching decisions on faecal egg count results and resistance tests, rather than the calendar.
“We’ve always monitored but we’ve increased the use of that tool and in more recent times we’ve moved to testing for drench resistance which we didn’t use to do.”
Simon admits that worm control is easier on his property than those in higher rainfall areas. “We average 450mm of rain and it’s not a summer rainfall environment, so I think in a way the climate works in our favour with worm management.”
The property recently experienced two good winters after three very dry ones and Simon suspects the dry years may have also helped his worm control. “I’m always looking over my shoulder saying ‘when’s the problem coming?’ But so far so good.”
However, it’s not just luck with the weather underpinning Simon’s success with worms. He’s also followed a careful program – a fact his veterinary advisor Paul Nilon will attest to. “His whole approach to parasite management is diligent and tight,” says Paul.
Simon reads widely to improve his worm management, and finds the WormBoss website to be a handy reference.
Paul says Simon comes to him when he has a particular problem. “He uses the local departmental lab to monitor nearly all mobs constantly, and although I get a copy of these results he’s making the decisions on a day-to-day basis. If he gets something out of left field he’ll get on to me.”
Four years ago, Simon approached Paul to conduct a comprehensive review of his worm program. Then when Simon carried out a worm resistance test six months ago, Paul was on hand again to help review and update his program.
The test showed that while there was a reasonable level of resistance to white and clear drenches, mectin drenches were still very effective.
Accordingly, Paul and Simon mapped out a strategy that involves keeping the mectin up their sleeve.
“We’ll be using a triple combination going forward”, says Simon. “There’s a couple of new drenches on the horizon and we’ll incorporate them into a program once they’re available and we’ll keep rotating our drenches to try and prolong the life of all of them.”
Simon monitors weaners every four to six weeks, and drenches on the basis of faecal egg counts. Ewes are worm tested prior to lambing, and only give a pre-lambing drench if it’s required.
“Usually it ends up that we drench at lamb marking time, and that constitutes the first summer drench for our ewes.” Wethers are also drenched at this time.
Paul says what stands out most about Simon’s management strategy is his very high level of monitoring.
“The second thing is that he doesn’t just operate on numbers. For example, in his worm program, we’ve got trigger levels for him to drench sheep at, but he co-ordinates information from this drench test with what he’s seeing in the paddock and makes decisions on a variety of information rather than blindly following a set of figures.”
Paul says there’s been a wide-scale move away from generalized messages for parasite management, towards tailored strategies for specific situations.
“There’s an understanding that you need a more refined approach, rather than saying the first summer drench is given on the 1st of November, or whatever that date may be.”
Paul, who has been providing worm advice to Tasmanian farmers for 20 years, says the landscape for worm management is changing rapidly.
While Tasmania has been “fairly privileged” in the past when it came to drench resistance, Paul warns that resistance issues are set to become an increasingly serious issue. “We’ve got to get the message out there.”
And with more farmers turning to prime lamb production and cropping, they now need to integrate their parasite management with these industries.
Simon is one of those farmers. On top of his flock, he runs a ram breeding program and mates 1600 of his 6300 ewes to a prime lamb sire each year. He also has a small beef breeding herd and is growing wheat, barley, irrigated lucerne and grass seed.
And that’s not to mention the 70% of his property which is native grassland, riparian zone, wetlands or woodland forest, and which he manages in return for an annual sum from the State Government.
At times, the various components of the business are complementary. For instance, Simon grazes his weaners on the stubble from the cereal and grass seed crops and has found it effective in keeping down worm burdens.
Looking to the future, Simon’s keen to learn more about Smart Grazing, an intensive grazing strategy designed to control worms in weaner sheep. “It’s quite interesting logistically”, says Simon. “We need a fair few sheep to set the paddocks up.”
But he says the results of trials elsewhere have been so successful, he’s confident it will be worthwhile.
WormBoss has been developed by Australian Wool Innovation Limited the Australian Sheep Industry CRC, with support by Animal Health Alliance (Australia) Ltd.