"I have been surprised to hear some wool-growers state with apparent pride, that they don't bother with worm egg counts," said John Whitlock of JA Whitlock & Co after visiting sheep sales in the last few weeks.
In talking with breeders he recounts other comments, such as, "I know my sheep. I can tell how they are just by looking." Another well known breeder told John that he had a mob of healthy looking lambs tested for worm eggs and the count was so high they should have been dead. He was so sceptical that he ordered a second independent count which confirmed the infestation.
JA Whitlock & Co makes the original McMaster worm egg counting microscope slides used by parasitologists in research and diagnosis. They are mostly used for sheep and cattle.
"Worm egg counts in Australia are mainly processed on Whitlock worm egg counting chambers predominantly by veterinarians and laboratories. We are seeing some government laboratories around the country closing down or being privatised and wool-growers and breeders are now being encouraged to undertake worm egg counts themselves" said John this week.
"With small financial outlay farmers can conduct their own worm egg counts. It is not necessary to wait a week or ten days for results. With the results being immediate necessary drenching can occur when it is required, not days or weeks after it probably should have been done".
"Breeders and wool-growers in NSW have been slow to undertake worm egg counts themselves. This is in stark contrast with other states where farmers have been acquiring the knowledge. They have also been buying the slides to look after the bulk of their counts themselves, encouraged by their DPI or departments of agriculture . This information helps them to make more informed decisions on when to drench, with what drench and with what dose ."
"Based on slides sales, the number of egg counts performed at laboratories or with the local vet, is small considering the well-known worm infestation problems of the Southern Tablelands, New England areas of NSW."
"Owing to the lengthy drought conditions engulfing Australia some people have become complacent .As soon as real rain falls there is likely be a worm infestation outbreak. The demand for worm egg counts will skyrocket and it will be difficult for labs to cope in a short time frame. Wool-growers should be considering learning to do it themselves now, equipping themselves and being prepared."
Worm egg counts determine the degree of infestation or worm burden of animals. They give important quantitative support for the grazier to decide whether and when to drench for parasite worms, and which ones to target.
The technique was developed within CSIRO McMaster Laboratories in the late 1930's by Harold Whitlock and Dr Hugh Gordon as part of a CSIRO program to combat parasites in Australia. Harold improved the slides and as the technique was applied to animals other than "sheep of the original research projects", he developed types such as the Paracytometer and then the Universal.
Harold's son John began work in the business at a young age. Since then John has been a scientist in building research for 32 years specialising in Fire and buildings. He has been making the Whitlock Worm Egg Counting Chambers again part time since Harold died in 1985. He is now working full time in the business which was established as JA Whitlock & Co in the 1960's. He is one of only a handful of such specialised slide manufacturers in the world and he is still making the various improved models over 60 years on.
JA Whitlock & Co manufactures three main types of worm egg counting microscope slides and 4 minor types. The business also provides a custom design and manufacture capability for small quantities for research laboratories and is assisting a number of research projects around the country. A recent example is the development of an import replacement slide for soil nematode analysis.
The "original" McMaster slide was developed for sheep research and was applied to goats and other small ruminants. The easy-to-use improved Whitlock McMaster consists of three chambers each of 0.3 ml capacity (3 x 0.3 ml) and is used around the world for sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, llama and vicuna.
The Whitlock Universal (4 x 0.5 ml) was developed from a four chamber cattle type of slide to provide a general purpose slide for small and large animals such as dogs, cats, sheep, goats, alpaca, cattle and horses. These have also been used to analyse racing camels in Saudi Arabia.
Certain slide types have become popular in various areas. The Universal is popular in the western districts of Victoria, the McMaster is popular in NSW and NZ whilst the 2 x 0.6 ml chamber Paracytometer is popular in southwestern WA.
A number of TAFE colleges are running short courses on worm egg counting and use the Whitlock slides as part of the course. "These same slides have been used in Vet Science courses around Australia for decades." John added.
"Drench resistance is another problem for many graziers and is being recognised by the industry. New tests such as Drenchrite are available to identify resistance and enable selection of appropriate treatments. Regular on farm monitoring is essential."
The microscope slides are commonly supplied ex stock. JA Whitlock & Co has up-to-the-minute communications including phone/fax and e-mail, and a web site. John is available to talk to graziers and breeders at hours to suit their business.
John is attending some field, show and sale days to talk with wool-growers and breeders. "The modern grazier has a number of tools in his scientific arsenal to help him maintain his edge over nature. Worm egg counts CAN be done by the individual, on the farm, as well as by the local veterinarian or laboratory", says John.
For more information contact John or Judy
(preferably not too late in the evening Australian Eastern Time [standard or daylight saving] or we might be asleep!)