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by Joan Burke, USDA-ARS - April 13, 2022
Chlamydospore of the fungus Duddingtonia flagrans (Df). Photo courtesy of the International Animal Health of Australia.
This new research grant project uses a systems research approach to examine strategies
to include Duddingtonia flagrans (Df), a nematode-trapping fungus, to minimize the need for dewormer in sheep and goats
in research and farmer's flocks/herds. Other worm control tools including genetics
will be included. We aim to show it is possible to provide a strategy to offer the
fungus, which controls gastrointestinal worms on pasture leading to improved animal
health and productivity and enhancing the sustainability of livestock farms.
Since our first SARE R&E grant in 2002 (Novel approaches for sustainable control of gastrointestinal nematodes in small ruminants
in the southeastern US; LS02-143), we have strived to include nematode-trapping fungus in the toolbox for livestock
producers to control gastrointestinal nematode (GIN) parasites. However, the commercialization of the fungus (BioWorma®) took 17 years!
GIN are the major health threat for ruminant livestock confounded by dewormer resistance.
GIN infections can lead to anemia, poor weight gains and death. The goal of most sustainable
farms is to eliminate chemical inputs and control GIN. The “Fun Guy” (Fungi) brings
this closer to reality. The fungus can remove much of the GIN on farm. Approximately
90% of GIN are found on the pasture and 10% in the animal; Df can reduce up to 90%
of larvae on pasture. A drawback is that the product is considered costly by most
farmers (between $0.20 to 0.60 per 100-pound animal per day). Thus, it is imperative
to build a strategic program for farmers that considers effectiveness and economics.
For example, can Df be fed every other day, or every other week or only in loose mineral
supplements? These questions will be answered in research flocks/herds and on farm
by examining changes in fecal egg counts, pasture larval counts and/or animal worm
Gastrointestinal nematode being captured by the fungus Duddingtonia flagrans (Df). Photo courtesy of the International Animal Health of Australia.
Genetic selection for resistance and/or resilience to GIN represents the most promising
means to minimize GIN infection, and with good pasture management and nutrition, can
nearly eliminate the need for deworming. Parasite resistance is the ability of the
animal to initiate and maintain an immune response to suppress establishment or eliminate
GIN. Resilience is the ability to maintain production even when parasitized. The ARS
flock and one of the farm flocks are enrolled in the National Sheep Improvement Program
which upon receiving data on flock animals returns breeding values including for parasite
resistance. Rams with exceptional parasite resistance will be compared with susceptible
or unknown resistance on at least three of the cooperating farm flocks with similar
breed type to evaluate FEC/resistance in offspring.
Another alternative that will be used for control of GIN with the fungus is copper
oxide wire particles (COWP). COWP is administered as a bolus to sheep or goats in
need, typically based on FAMACHA (scores of 1 or 2 do not need deworming, scores of
3 may, and scores of 4 and 5 indicate dire need for deworming). COWP targets barber
pole worm, but not other GIN that could cause weight loss and diarrhea. COWP is commercially
available and cost as little as 7¢/treatment for low doses (0.5 g) which minimize
risk of copper toxicity. COWP is accepted by some organic certifiers as a dewormer,
thus organic status can be maintained. Several cooperating farmers in this research
project use COWP for worm control.
This project focuses on environmentally friendly tools that with proper management
have the potential to essentially remove worm parasites and chemical inputs from the
farming system leading to greater resilience. Farmers currently manage their small
ruminants by moving to new pastures, making sure that water and mineral sources are
not overly contaminated with parasite-laden manure, and adding chemicals through deworming.
If the internal parasite larvae numbers are greatly reduced on pasture due to the
genetics of resistance within the animal and the nematode-trapping fungus in the manure,
small ruminants and their chemically clean manure can be used to benefit the soil,
especially the soil microbiology increasing microbial diversity. This will improve
soil health, increase organic matter, and help to regenerate a farm’s soil and forage
resources, some of the core principles of regenerative agriculture. An added payout
is improved livestock production. Consumers are increasingly interested in sourcing
products from farms that use regenerative practices including minimal use of pharmaceutical
interventions. This includes forgoing the use of chemical inputs while continually
improving soil health. Small ruminant producers’ reliance on dewormers has not only
created increased input costs but has negatively affected biodiversity in gut of animal
and soils. Also, wormy animals make it more challenging for producers to maintain
a rotational grazing system if affected animals must be continually treated or removed
to a dry lot until health is restored. Enabling producers to raise small ruminants
with fewer parasites will allow producers to better satisfy the changing consumer
market while simultaneously bettering soil health and the overall holistic wellness
of their farms.
The team of researchers includes Joan Burke (USDA, ARS, Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research
Center, Booneville, AR), Tom Terrill and Niki Whitley (Fort Valley State University,
GA), and Adriano Vatta (Louisiana State University). Outputs and farmer friendly publications
will be found on the website of the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite
Control (www.wormx.info). You can also learn more about the researchers on the website. The on-farm research
will include farmers from Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana.
Research Animal ScientistUSDA-ARSBooneville, AR
Professor of Animal ScienceFort Valley State UniversityFort Valley, Georgia
Animal Science Extension SpecialistFort Valley State UniversityFort Valley, Georgia
Associate Professor of Pathobiological SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton Rouge, Louisiana