Helping agribusiness to reduce the environmental impact of protecting livestock against pests

New research capability co-funded by CIEL is helping to develop an innovative approach to managing ectoparasites in ruminant livestock.

Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke Farm Platform is teaming up with Devon-based firm Denis Brinicombe Group for the project which they hope will also have a positive impact upon the environment with regard to ruminant production efficiency.

Ectoparasites such as ticks, flies and lice are significant limiting factors to livestock production efficiency and animal welfare. Primary symptoms of a parasitic challenge include reduction in animal performance and reduced growth, milk production and fertility. Such reductions are economically and environmentally costly. The consequence is a net increase in inputs (food, water, medicines, labour etc.) and negative environmental impacts (such as greenhouse gases and water pollution) relative to the outputs (meat, milk, wool, offspring). The prevention of ectoparasites therefore has potential economic, environmental and welfare value.

The project will use the new state-of-the-art Robert Orr Small Ruminant Facility which is equipped with 24 automatic feed stations to test the hypothesis that a modification of ruminant diet to include specific feed ingredients will alter the external physiological profile of animals, leading to a reduction in parasitic attack.

The study will help to fight the resistance to parasite treatments which is a major growing concern for agriculture and wider society.”

Dr Andrew Cooke, Principal Investigator, North Wyke Farm Platform

It will provide an innovative approach for improved animal health that reduces dependence upon current pest management tools such as acaricides and other treatments.

Dr Mike Birkett, North Wyke Farm Platform

The successful entry of a new and effective diet-based approach to pest management could also prove effective in treating endoparasite infections and mitigate against the growing threat of AMR (antimicrobial resistance.

Keith Greig, Managing Director of Denis Brinicombe Group

The project is funded by the ERDF sponsored Impact Lab on Environmental Futures and Big Data.

Investment by CIEL through Innovate UK funding has supported the development of the Robert Orr Small Ruminant Facility. It is able to house 400 or more ewes and up to 60 goats, with group and single pen facilities for feeding and behavioural research trials. It will also be used to keep North Wyke Farm’s research flocks, which are reared on different farming systems, separate over winter to fully examine and compare the environmental and efficiency benefits of each system.