Wild deer carrying drug-resistant parasites between cattle and sheep farms

Animal Bytes is published freely by the British Society for Animal Science (BSAS). It’s there to let farmers and vets know what scientists are doing with funding from BSAS. Animal Bytes provides ‘short and incisive updates on topical themes and current research in UK animal science’.

A recent article that caught my eye in Animal Bytes is about worms. Parasitic worms. Worms often live in the guts of mammals, birds and anything else that has guts, eating and growing. The posh name for these greedy wigglers is ‘helminths’. They include some kinds of roundworms (nematodes), some kinds of flatworms (trematodes) and also tapeworms (cestodes).

If you’re a farmer, you care about the helminths in your livestock. They can make the animals ill, sometimes very ill, and that means your farm loses productivity. So routine livestock care involves worming. You give your animals drugs called anthelmintics to kill off at least some of their helminths.

Worms may not seem very clever but they’re good at breeding more worms and they’re good at evolving. They evolve resistance to anthelmintics. In fact, this is a huge problem for livestock farmers. That’s why, for example, there’s an industry-led project called Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS).

Animal Bytes tells us about drug-resistant helminths in cattle, sheep and deer. Drug-resistant strains of a common nematode called Haemonchus contortus have been found not only in cattle (Bos primigenius) and sheep (Ovis aries) but also in fallow deer (Dama dama), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). The science, so far, tells us that cattle and sheep can give worms to deer. It doesn’t yet tell us whether deer can give worms back but that seems likely, doesn’t it?

You might choose to follow my tags for more about worms, livestock and deer. You also might choose to worm your animals, taking your vet’s advice about which anthelmintics are still working.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to Wild deer carrying drug-resistant parasites between cattle and sheep farms

  1. Finn Holding says:

    After the badger cull, next… the deer cull?

    This all reminds me of a piece by Spike Milligan called ‘Once upon’:

    “Once upon an unfortunate time, there was a hairy thing called man. Along with him was a hairier thing called animal. Man had a larger brain which made him think he was superior to animals. Some men thought they wer superior to men. They became leader men. Leader men said “We have no need to work, we will kill animals to eat.” So they did. Man increased, animals decreased. Eventually leader men said “There are not enough animals left to eat. We must grow our own food.” So man grew food.

    Now the only animals man had not destroyed were tiny ones like rabbits and mices, and these little animals were caught eating some of mans crops. These animals are a menace. They must die.” In China they killed all the sparrows. In Australia they killed all the rabbits. Everywhere man killed all the wildlife. Soon there was none, and all the birds werre poisoned. Leader man said “At last! We are free of pests.”

    Mans numbers increased. The world became crowded with men. They all had to sleep standing up. One day a leader man saw a new creature eating his crops. This creatures name was starving people. “This creature is a menace!” said leader man…”

    From “The Little Pot Boiler” by Milligan published in 1963

    • argylesock says:

      You know, I think, that some species of deer are routinely culled already. It’s because our ancestors hunted several large carnivores to extinction, leaving the deer without natural predators. And because some of our deer were introduced to these islands, not being native species.

      When I started blogging about deer culling, under my ‘shooting’ and ‘game’ tags, that was largely because I’d been flamed on our fellow blogger Jim Robertson’s ‘Exposing the Big Game’. Jim himself is polite and didn’t flame me, but some of his followers did.

      Oh well. I learned a lot about deer and other game species, because that flame war got me started on the topic of blood sports.

      • Finn Holding says:

        Culling is one thing, to reduce herds to managable numbers, and for meat. But the balance needs to be struck so proper culling can go ahead but the kind of ill-conceived slaughter that’s now underway in Gloucestershire can’t.

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