Background: Bovine fasciolosis is an economically important livestock disease in Europe, and represents a particular challenge for organic farms, where cattle are grazed extensively and the use of anthelmintic is limited. A two-year longitudinal study was conducted on two conventional and two organic Danish dairy farms to examine the current temporal trend of F. hepatica infection on-farm, and to gather data of practical relevance for parasite control. Data were collected both at the herd and individual level using currently available diagnostic methods: a commercial serum antibody ELISA, a commercial copro-antigen ELISA, faecal egg counts, and monthly bulk tank milk (BTM) ELISA. The temporal patterns (animal age, farm-level temporal trends and seasonality) in the animal-level test results were analysed by generalised additive mixed models (GAMM). Results: Patterns of infection differed substantially between the farms, due to different grazing management and anthelmintic use. However, animals were first infected at the age of 1.5-2 years (heifers), and most at-risk animals sero-converted in autumn, suggesting that summer infections in snails prevail in Denmark. Our results also suggest that the lifespan of the parasite could be over 2 years, as several cows showed signs of low grade infection even after several years of continuous indoor housing without access to freshly-cut grass. The serum antibody ELISA was able to detect infection first, whereas both copro-antigen ELISA and faecal egg counts tended to increase in the same animals at a later point. Decreasing BTM antibody levels were seen on the two farms that started anthelmintic treatment during the study. Conclusions: While important differences between farms and over time were seen due to varying grazing management, anthelmintic treatment and climatic conditions, the young stock was consistently seen as the main high-risk group and at least one farm also had suspected transmission (re-infection) within the lactating herd. Careful interpretation of test results is necessary for older cows as they can show persistent infections several years after exposure has stopped. Rigorous treatment regimens can reduce BTM ELISA values, but further research is needed to develop a non-medicinal approach for sustainable management of bovine fasciolosis.
- Fasciola hepatica