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New Sheep Louse Test

An early warning lice detector test, which will make checking for lice more accurate and save farmers money, is just around the corner.

Funded by WoolPro, the test is being developed by AgResearch scientist Alex Pfeffer and, all going well, will be available to farmers by the end of the year.

WoolPro environmental technologist Stu Edwards says the test will enable farmers to evaluate their treatment options earlier and more accurately, and will therefore save them money.

It will involve a farmer taking a mid-side sample at skin level and sending it away for testing – although it’s hoped farmers will eventually be able to complete the test themselves. They will then receive a louse ranking for their sheep, between 0 (no lice) to 10 (very lousy).

“Farmers won’t have to treat their flocks as a matter of course, because this test will clearly show whether or not treatment is necessary,” he says.

“And if there are no signs of early infestation, they’ll know treating in the following season won’t be required either.”

Mr Edwards says farmers will no longer have to rely on the naked eye – and obvious signs such as fleece damage, rubbing and biting to tell if their sheep have lice.

“By the time you get signs like that, you already have clinical or acute infestation. This test will show sub-clinical, or very low levels of infestation.”

He says the new test will work much like a pregnancy test for humans.

“While the pregnancy test gives a black and white answer – either someone is pregnant or they’re not – the result of the louse test will alter according to the level of infestation. In other words, the intensity of colour in the strip is directly proportional to the number of lice present.”

The test is now being validated to ensure its accuracy across all breeds of sheep. More than 400 samples nationwide will be tested over the next two months, and after positive correlation, testing capabilities will be scaled up so farmers can begin using it.

“Initially, the samples will need to be sent to AgResearch or a certified laboratory for testing, but we expect in a year or two the tests will be available in vet practices or on farms,” says Mr Edwards.

[ends]


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