Research has shown that sheep from a Massey University flock selected for increased fleece weight (FW) for thirty-six years have higher faecal egg counts (FEC) than unselected controls (C). The purpose of this trial was to determine whether differences in FEC between FW and C sheep accurately reflected differences in adult worm burdens. In addition levels of mucosal mast cells, and their relationship with worm burden in each line were examined. Thirteen one year-old rams from each flock were housed indoors and artificially infected with larvae of three species of nematode parasite: Haemonchus contortus, Ostertagia circumcincta, and Trichostrongylus colubriformis. FECs were monitored and adult worm burdens, and levels of mucosal mast cells, determined following slaughter 28 days after infection. FECs were higher in FW than C sheep (4204 vs 300 epg, p<0.0001), as were numbers of adult Haemonchus (1151 vs 249, p<0.01) and Ostertagi (2268 vs 600, p<0.05). Numbers of Trichostrongylus (5838 vs 5266) and total worm burden (9257 vs 6115) were not significantly different between lines. A 'Total Pathogenic Index', calculated from the number of parasites of each species present in the total burden, was higher in FW than C sheep (3.8 vs 1.5, p<0.005). The regression coefficient relating FEC to worm burden was larger in FW than C sheep (0.35 vs 0.05 eggs per g faeces/worm, p<0.01). Levels of mucosal mast cells did not differ significantly between lines, but were inversely related to number of worms in FW sheep. There was no such relationship in C sheep. It is concluded that while the large differences in FEC between lines overestimates the difference in total worm burden, FW sheep do carry significantly more worms of the abomasal species H. contortus and O. circumcincta than C sheep. FW sheep are able to maintain superior wool production in spite of this potentially more pathogenic worm burden. The mucosal mast cell response to parasitic infection also appears to have been changed by selection.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 54, , 9-14, 1994
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