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Multinomial logistic regression based on neural networks reveals inherent differences among dairy farms depending on the differential exposure to Fasciola hepatica and Ostertagia ostertagi.

Fasciola hepatica and Ostertagia ostertagi are cattle parasites with worldwide relevance for economic outcome as well as animal health and welfare. The on-farm exposure of cattle to both parasites is a function of host-associated, intrinsic, as well as environmental and farm-specific, extrinsic, factors. Even though knowledge on the biology of both parasites exists, sophisticated and innovative modelling approaches can help to deepen our understanding of key aspects fostering the exposure of dairy cows to these pathogens. In the present study, multiple multinomial logistic regression models were fitted via neural networks to describe the differences among farms where cattle were not exposed to either F. hepatica or O. ostertagi, to one parasite, or to both, respectively. Farm-specific production and management characteristics were used as covariates to portray these differences. This elucidated inherent farm characteristics associated with parasite exposure. In both studied regions, pasture access for cows, farm-level milk yield, and lameness prevalence were identified as relevant factors. In region 'South', adherence to organic farming principles was a further covariate of importance. In region 'North', the prevalence of cows with a low body condition score, herd size, hock lesion prevalence, farm-level somatic cell count, and study year appeared to be of relevance. The present study broadens our understanding of the complex epidemiological scenarios that could predict differential farm-level parasite status. The analyses have revealed the importance of awareness of dissimilarities between farms in regard to the differential exposure to F. hepatica and O. ostertagi. This provides solid evidence that dynamics and relevant factors differ depending on whether or not cows are exposed to F. hepatica, O. ostertagi, or to both.

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