Treating parasites in cattle boosts the bottom line – Jack Dawes and Naomi Paley

On a recent radio show hosted by Jack Dawes on the Rock 98.5 in Yorkton, Sk heard every Thursday at 11 am, he and farm journalist Harry Siemens spoke with Naomi Paley, PAg – Regional Livestock Specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture about an on-farm demonstration project involving pour-on de-wormers.

Jack Dawes – Well, off the top, something cattle producers use in the livestock industry known as a pour-on dewormer meaning various products onto the animal; they’re absorbed into the bloodstream to control multiple parasites and other nasties that can happen to cattle in feedlots and out on the range. And Naomi Paley is the livestock specialist for this region in the Province of Saskatchewan, and I guess, Naomi, we had a couple of farms in this area that were involved in this … technically, not research, but technically a, let’s call it a study.

Naomi – Right. So it was a demonstration, and it was looking at a couple of things. We looked at; we had three different locations across the province. So we had backgrounding operations, one at Swift Current, one at Ituna, and one at Langenburg.

Naomi – And so we specifically wanted to look at background cattle and take a look at a couple of different things. One, at what was the level or the prevalence of parasite resistance that we saw in background cattle? Two, the good old ivermectin pour-on, something that’s been a mainstay in the cattle industry, in the North American cattle industry, for the last 25 years. It’s been the wonder drug. It was the one-shot deal, the easy to administer, the pour-on right down their back, and it took care of everything. It took care of internal parasites; it took care of lice and everything. And so, it’s been revolutionary for the livestock industry for the last 25 years.

Naomi –  But, like all good things, after continued use and perhaps uneven applications and inconsistent absorption, we get sometimes low levels of the active ingredient, the Macrocyclic lactones is what they call them, in all the ivermectin-type pour-on. And when you have low levels of absorption and things like that, what happens is we start to see resistance. These parasites, these bugs begin to build up a tolerance and build up a resistance to them. So over the last 25 years, yeah, resistance has started to happen, and we have lots of proper research to say that that is becoming more and more of a problem, especially in western Canada and in our cattle here. And that’s why we wanted to take a look at this and see what’s happening in our backyard.

Jack –  Naomi, when we talk about background cattle, what exactly are they?

Naomi – Specifically, background cattle are cattle that are weaned directly from their moms, from the mother cows, put onto a feed ration. And basically, they’re getting them up onto feed, getting them gaining and moving in the right direction, ready to, principally by the time they hit about 750-800 pounds, then they’re prepared to move into the finishing stages. Feedlot cattle, by the time they get 1250 pounds, 1300 pounds when they’re finished and ready for slaughter. So it’s that between weaning and hitting finishing stages.

Jack – So how did you do this study? What happened? Specifically, we have a farm in Langenburg, one in Ituna. What happened on those ranches?

Naomi – We did a side-by-side demonstration. So we had two pens of cattle at each of the locations. One pen received the regular pour-on Ivermectin, and the second enclosure of cattle was treated with ivermectin, and then in addition to that, a product known the trade name as Safe-Guard. And the difference between it, it’s precisely for parasite treatment. The difference between it and good old ivermectin is that is has a different active ingredient, a mixed mode of action, and the drug in that is called fenbendazole. And so the reason that we treated both with Safe-Guard and with ivermectin was that the Safe-Guard, the fenbendazole, does not get the lice on the outside of the animals. This product only focuses on internal parasites, so that’s why we wanted to cover our bases and that we would treat them with both there.

Naomi – And primarily, we were looking at fecal egg counts at the end of the day. Animals were treated with the drugs and then two weeks later; First of all, right at the time of treatment, we collected fecal samples and sent them off to a lab to look at fecal egg count. So fundamentally, looking at the number of live and active parasites in them treated with the drugs. Two weeks later, we went back to the farms, and we collected fecal samples again and looked at what was left behind; how effective were the drugs in both of those treatment groups.

Jack – And how effective were they? Maybe I’m jumping ahead [crosstalk 00:05:06].

Naomi – You always want the bottom line, right? Mostly, we had substantial and statistically significant differences between the two treatment groups. The groups that were treated just with good old ivermectin still had significant numbers of parasites that survived the treatment and were always there causing production losses; causing low rates of absorption, poor gains, and so on. The ones that we treated with the Safe-Guard and ivermectin had virtually zero fecal egg counts; a very, very low level after treated with the fenbendazole, the Safe-Guard product.

Jack – So, what happens to cattle if not treated?

Naomi – Essentially, the bugs are in there. They are reducing absorption of feed, and so there’s a lot of fodder that’s going through that is not utilized; the passing rate out the back end. And it’s also affecting their immunity and their overall health status. So they’re just not doing as well as they should be doing. If left entirely untreated, animals will suffer significantly. You will have significant production losses. If they’re treated and have a high level of resistance to the drug that you’re using, it’s going to be like sub-clinical. They might look okay, but they’re not going to be performing as well as they should be doing.

Jack – So, they don’t gain weight.

Naomi – Absolutely

Jack – I guess the dollars and cents question, and I took a quick scan of the study, and somebody even figured out what the average prices were and so forth. Can you give us those numbers? How does that work out?

Naomi –  So, the bottom line is – guys always want to cut to the chase; tell me what the difference was – so over the three different farms that we looked at across the province, the difference between the ivermectin treated group versus the Safe-Guard treated group was an average of 15 pounds. So the calves treated with the Safe-Guard gained 15 pounds more on average versus the ones that just had the ivermectin treatment.

Jack – Right. While I was cherry picking the study, I focused on this line. It says, “The cost of the Safe-Guard suspension product was $3.00 a head. Net return to using that treatment, part of the de-worming strategy, was $33.83 a head.” So that’s significant.

Naomi – Yeah. It’s somewhat significant, right. When you look at the process in the feeding industry on about a 10-year average, I think the feedlot industry breaks even. So when you look at being able to spend three bucks and gain just about $30 a head or somewhere in that ballpark, depending on what prices are, that’s significant. That’s a big deal. And so I think producers need to understand that this is happening right here in our backyard. And there’s something we can do about it with ways to manage parasites in a procedure that’s multi-pronged, if you want to look at it that way, using different products; a combination of products at specific times of year that can make a big difference to your bottom line.

Jack – So, what were the comments from the producer farms that were the test grounds for this research? “It is not research, Jack.”

Naomi – Producer comments, and we wanted to be open and honest about these things. We’re not trying to promote a company or a product or anything like that. And so producers, they were obviously happy and surprised to see that there was that much of a difference between the two groups. The one potential, if you will, the drawback with using Safe-Guard in this oral suspension is it’s a water-based product. And so, two of the three farms were doing these procedures when it was cold outside, and so this product is susceptible to freezing. So you needed to use a bag that had a warmer in it, and you had to try to keep the stuff unthawed. So a little bit of a logistics and a labor thing for sure because it’s an additional procedure that’s happening when you’ve got to try and stick this stuff in the cattle’s mouth and give them a shot of it; it’s an oral suspension. So that was a bit of a drawback.


However, this product is also available in a feed crumble, and so it can be fed. So most of them said, “You know what? I would look at doing this again, perhaps putting it in the feed versus having to administer it at processing time before the calves hit the pens.”


Is there further followup that’ll happen as a result of this demonstration?


The reason we did the demonstration was as sort of a followup to a lot of the research that’s out there. So, yeah. So essentially, we just wanted to get this information out there; let people know that, yeah, it’s happening here and it’s proven itself according to what the research is telling us.


Our colleague, Harry Siemens, is on the line with us from Winkler, Manitoba. Harry, you have some terrific insights into the livestock industry. Do you have any questions for Naomi from your corner?

Harry – Naomi, just one further question. So where’s it at now? Is it available on the market? Can farmers get it?

Naomi – Safe-Guard’s is not a new product. It’s been around for a long time.

It’s just that now that resistance is sort of rearing its ugly head, it’s one of the other few alternatives that we have to go to. And so really encouraging producers to try and look at using this in addition to ivermectin. And trying to look at the specific times of year that you do de-worming because your overall goal is to try and reduce the number of those fecal eggs that are shed out on pasture because that’s where everybody picks up the infection.


During wintertime and things like that, when cattle are feeding, and the world is frozen, these parasites are not going through their regular life cycle. When the animal sheds the eggs through feces onto pasture and the grass, that’s when they complete the loop of their life cycle, and that’s when animals pick them up, is out on pasture. So producers need to understand this whole life cycle and try to use these products at specific times of year to try and reduce the overall egg shedding that happens and try and clean their pastures up because that’s the key to the whole scenario.

Jack – Do these parasites, can they survive out in our winters? That would happen?

Naomi – These parasites can go dormant and come back to life again in spring. But typically it’s the animals and setting the fresh fecal eggs that will bring the new ones out and cause them to re-infect and climb up the stalks of the grass, and when the animals are grazing, they eat them and ingest them, and then the cycle is complete.

Harry – I have one other question, if I may.

Jack – Yeah, sure. Just let people know that you’re on the land with The Rock. Naomi Paley is a livestock specialist, and we’re talking about a, I keep wanting to call it, I want to call it research, but it was a demonstration of animal health with specific treatments done in livestock. So go ahead, Harry. What’s your question?

Harry – I may have missed it in the beginning, so why exactly did you come out with the demonstration now?

Naomi – Essentially, probably for the last five, eight years research has been done in western Canada, specifically Alberta; even some work at the Western Beef Development Centre in Lanigan, showing that parasite resistance is becoming more and more prevalent in western Canada. In the past, we thought it was only an issue that happened down in the United States where winters aren’t as harsh, or they don’t have winter, and parasites continue to live on a year-round basis and are very active.


I think we were sticking our head in the sand a little bit about is this a problem here in Saskatchewan and the great white north. And so, this research has been coming out and saying yes; parasite resistance is a problem. And I don’t know that people were paying attention to it and understanding that maybe we have to change what we’ve been doing for the past 25 years with regards to parasite treatment. And so we wanted to take this research and essentially demonstrate it, and to say, “Hey, yes, it’s happening here, and you know what? There are other options and methods, and it makes a difference to your bottom line, which is the most important part.”

Jack – Naomi, I read up on this because I subscribe to your regular newsletter. So people who might be interested in getting more information, what should they do?

Naomi – We post on our website-

Jack – The Ministry of Agriculture?

Naomi – The Ministry of Agriculture website, posted on our Saskatchewan Ag Now blog. If anyone wants to discuss it or have a conversation about it, they’re more than welcome to call me at my office as well, and I’d be happy to talk about it.

Jack – Naomi Paley is a livestock specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture, based here in Yorkton, SK.