I run sheep as well as cattle. The cattle are a sideline to the sheep. The sheep make the real steady money and the cattle clean up the long stuff the sheep cant eat and bring in money on the side. Sheep are a LOT more susceptible to parasites than cattle. If one tried to run a commercial business that you had to rely on income in this area it could not be done without parasite control. There is nothing "natural" about merino sheep that have been bred by man for maybe 6000 years. Under "natural" conditions small numbers of wild sheep would live on dry desert sparse rocky outcrops. If you want an Italian suit, or a nice juicy young lamb leg cheap from the supermarket parasite control is needed.
In this area we have liver fluke. In the old days before the first drench came in the 1950's (which was carbon tetrachloride) and when wool was worth a pound a pound, the 10,000 -20,000 acre property next door used to employ a full time skinner to go round collecting all the sheep dead from liver fluke. They would join 5000 ewes and end up with 1500 lambs and have to buy in replacements. Now we have modern range of drenches only a few percent, less than 5%, are lost to parasites if we use good management. In dry years I only sometimes need to drench twice a year (and one of those in mid winter for fluke) as checked by manure tests, in some spring times once a month is not enough.
Yesterday I needed to do a pre-lambing drench on a mob of very fat and healthy and extremely strong and robust SAMM X merino ewes. Many would weigh 70 kg and can certainly knock me around. Because of a range of circumstances beyond my control I KNOW some are likely to have a big liver fluke load. I know that I will lose some if I really clean them out good for fluke by using Closantel and Triclabendazole. The fluke will die in numbers in their liver and clostridial disease will infect, or it will be just too much dead tissue and blocked bile ducts for others. I know I may lose production in the mob if I dont clean them out. I know in the long run that sheep will die if I dont, perhaps not now, but when the pressure is on them and they are in poorer condition.
Farming seems to be always about making decisions about how I want to loose, this way, or that way.
Parasite, host, and management interactions are complex and depend on mob history and management. The fact that you have not used parasite control, and then suddenly done so, has brought on problems that are not usual. I do think your government vet should have known better. It was a bad way to save money (assuming it was for free with the students). You would probably have had more responsibility taken if you had paid a private cattle vet, and probably had more you could have got back off him. You could possibly have made a small claims negligence action against a private vet. Who knows with the government (who never wants to be responsible for anything).
I do not think I am at all brainwashed about chemical companies. I am extremely grateful that we have the range of chemicals that we do to control the different parasites. Parasites in cattle are a doddle compared to sheep. The Gurus on this site would have been earning their livings for decades from cattle and are people worthy of respect for their knowledge and for being able to stay in business in a tough game.
Just because the animals are extremely healthy and would live well for ages without a drench does not mean they wont drop dead if you give them a drench in inapropriate circumstances as happened with you.
In cases of an extremely emaciated or weak animals the same applies, to keep it alive a slow low dose of very in-effective drench is needed so the animal can cope with the number of parasites killed spread over a longer time. Dont give it any parasite control and it will die anyway.
I do have a gripe with starry eyed hobby farmers who think they wont use nasty modern non-organic chemicals on their sheep and goats. (cattle survive here OK without parasite control usually, until something else goes wrong). It is not fair on those animals to inflict ideology on them that they will end up suffering for.
I respect your decision not to use parasite control on your animals, if they remain healthy, and you make yourself aware of the consequences of NOT using usual parasite control. In this case a slip up happened that you did not predict, and neither did the vet. So I do blame the vet, I also blame you, well, blame is not really the right word, he is a professional and you are not and cannot be expected to have the depth of knowledge. You are the one in the hot seat here as you have worn the loss, and now have to decide to do something about it or not. It is a hard lesson. I must admit it is easier to learn with a dozen sheep dying out of hundreds than to watch 19 calves dying. Still, if there are livestock there are deadstock.
I do not think the chemical companies are to blame. The drench did not kill the stock. It is not good that a self-reinforcing attitude has been created where you think parasite control is unnecessary and bad, you eventually use some and have a major loss because you did use parastite control and rather than open up the idea that parasite control is complex, shut down and say it is ALL bad.
Many farmers just use a yearly program so they dont have to do research and know as much. If you choose not to have a program I think you owe it to the animals to be more informed about parasites than if you dont. Looking healthy is not the important criteria.