Feb. 28, 2022

Vet med researchers launch website to help Western Canadian sheep producers control parasites

New tool helps fight parasites and increasing drug resistance in livestock
sheep in field

Producers and veterinarians across Western Canada have a new weapon in the battle against sheep and goats' gastrointestinal parasites developing resistance to anthelmintic (deworming) drugs. The University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) has launched a website with the latest research results and information about best practices for parasite control.

“It's a great idea,” says Darlene Stein, a producer with about 800 sheep near Barrhead, Alta. “If there's one thing that would put the majority of sheep farmers out of business, parasites can sure do it. We don't have a lot of good tools in our toolbox as drugs go. So being able to use them wisely and use good information to manage our pastures to reduce our parasite load really is key for all of us to be more successful in our businesses.”

John Gilleard

John Gilleard

Jager and Kokemor Photography

The information on the website is based on results of seven years of research in Western Canada conducted by UCVM’s sheep parasite study team led by Dr. John Gilleard, DVM, PhD, Dr. Michel Lévy, DVM, and Dr. Camila de Queiroz, DVM, PhD.

“As the parasites are evolving, the drugs available are changing and the information we have on good practice is changing,” says Gilleard, a renowned veterinary parasitologist, professor in the Department of Comparative Biology and Experimental Medicine.

The website covers the key parasites, the drugs available to control them, and crucially, how to identify parasite resistance in a flock and delay the development of anthelmintic resistance, a growing global threat to livestock production.

Researchers work with local producers to stem growing problem of drug resistance in sheep

“When you look at parasite control in livestock, generally, but particularly in sheep, it's been very dependent on using drugs,” says Gilleard. “Drugs are relatively cheap and easily available, and a culture's developed over 30 years of ‘as long as we treat once or twice in the year then everything's good, we don't need to worry about it.’ That's no longer effective and certainly not sustainable because of emerging drug resistance.”

Michel Levy

Michel Lévy

Syed Rahil Tarique, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Gilleard says the website will help educate producers in good practice in parasite control, which is “both effective and sustainable, and responsible in terms of using drugs.” While there are other websites and information resources about sheep parasite control, it can be difficult for producers and veterinarians to parse out what data may be relevant to local flocks.

“These parasites tend to be quite regional in the details and so when people find a website about parasite control and it's from Southern U.S. or Australia or the U.K., some of it's very relevant and some of it's not,” says Gilleard. “The idea behind this website was to make information more tailored to the community here and focus on the local situation and the research that's relevant to here.”

DVM students spent summers visiting farms and collecting vital samples and data

The website, which also includes a list of resources and expert tips on parasite control and sustainable anthelmintic drug use, was developed by Gilleard, Levy and de Queiroz with the help of about a dozen DVM students over the past seven years. It will be updated as new research results are available and best practice guidelines evolve.

Camila de Queiroz

Camila de Queiroz

John Gilleard Lab

“It's one of these projects which needs critical mass of people working on it to make it work,” says de Queiroz, whose PhD project at UCVM was central to the study. “We were looking at the situation over six or seven consecutive years and each summer, collecting samples, collecting data, visiting farms. To do that in a meaningful way, we had three or four people each summer working on that. This has included DVM students from the UCVM program and so it has provided some great training opportunities as well.”

Stein is grateful for their efforts bringing the latest research to producers. “This information is new and it's changed the way a lot of people manage their parasites to try and reduce the resistance that is inevitable with the products that we use to treat our animals.

"It's great that they got the website up and running and it's a valuable tool for producers. I will direct all the new producers that I have interactions with to the website, that's for sure.”