Feed products manufacturer the Denis Brinicombe Group is working with Rothamsted Research to explore the role of certain feed ingredients in reducing the effect of ectoparasites on ruminant productivity.

As well as benefiting the environment through greater efficiency, the research could reduce the need for livestock insecticide treatments (while protecting the efficacy of existing products) and antibiotics in the case of secondary infections.

The work will take place at the Robert Orr Small Ruminant Facility, a new trials site that has recently opened at Rothamsted’s North Wyke field station near Okehampton in Devon, part funded by the government through Innovate UK’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL). Although the trial facility uses sheep for its studies, the findings will be transferable to all species.

The research project will test the hypothesis that a modified ruminant diet that includes Brinicombe’s specific polysulphide plant extract PST22 will alter the external physiological profile of animals. In turn, this could reduce attacks from external parasites such as ticks, flies and lice, which can significantly limit livestock production efficiency and animal welfare.

Parasitic challenge can reduce animal performance indicators such as growth rate, milk production and fertility, as well as increasing the need for inputs such as feed, water, medicines and labour. This has an adverse effect on productivity, environmental impact and animal welfare.

Principal Investigator Dr Andrew Cooke believes the project will help combat resistance to existing parasite treatments, while colleague Dr Mike Birkett adds the innovative approach to improving animal health could reduce dependence upon acaricides and other insecticide treatments.

Brinicombe managing director Keith Greig says 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 antimicrobial resistance.

The project is funded by the European Rural Development Fund-sponsored Impact Lab on Environmental Futures and Big Data.