Farmers are being told to set up biosecurity plans to stop the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis from spreading to their farm.
About 20 people heard more about what they could do to help control the bacterial disease, described as a big “wake-up call” for dairy farmers at a field day in Manawatū.
The field day was held on Robert Ervine’s Rangiotu farm, and dairy vet Leisa Norris said they thought about holding it off the farm.
“But biosecurity doesn’t have to be scary. It is not a big deal. It is just what we do on farms. You just have to have the right mindset and farm biosecurity is good practice – not just for Mycoplasma bovis, but for calf scours and other diseases. It makes us all think about all those things too,” she said
Dairy vet Fraser Abernethy said the disease was having a big impact on the industry and affected farmers with more than 22,000 dairy cattle to be culled.
He said Mycoplasma bovis was found around the world, including Australia, and the only country fortunate to be without the disease was Norway.
Dairy vet Hamish Clare said the bacterial disease arriving in New Zealand could be an unknown strain.
“The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) thinks that the disease entered the country in a single event, in May to September 2016. And the strain in New Zealand we have of Mycoplasma bovis is not a strain that is known. So it might be not tested, or it could be a new unknown strain.”
He said most of the confirmed cases had been found in the South Island apart from one farm in Hawke’s Bay, but all dairy farmers no matter where they were, needed to be vigilant.
“About 70 per cent of all herds are in the North Island.”
Clare said there were 28 infected herds and they were a small part of the 1200 dairy herds in New Zealand.
“There are more than 22,000 dairy cattle to be culled, but there are about five million dairy cattle in the country.”
He said while culled numbers were small, for those farmers impacted it meant the loss of all the genetic material they might have built up.
“There are lost genetics and it is really hard for those farmers.”
Dairy vet Katie Kent said Mycoplasma bovis was a hardy bug in cattle.
“It has no cell wall. So antibiotics don’t work on them and they evade the animal’s protection system.”
Kent said bacteria without a cell wall did not last well once outside a cattle beast and was easy to kill.
Cow-to-cow infection resulted through secretions.
“Such things as close contact with an infected cow, it is also transmitted through milk, milking equipment and other equipment such as artificial insemination (AI) equipment that was not sterilised.
”Feed, urine and faeces is a lower risk. But transport trucks [warm and wet] and close nose to nose contact as well as contact with cows on neighbouring farms can spread the disease.”
She said Mycoplasma bovis could stay dormant in cows for a some months before they shed bacteria.
“The impact of the disease is, mastitis is difficult to treat, swollen joints, pneumonia in calves are all hard to treat, there are some late term abortions, and calves can get a middle ear infection. Treatment of Mycoplasma bovis is poor.”
Vets and farmers said the best thing to do was to manage farms to avoid getting the disease.
“Make sure that people entering the property have clean boots and could disinfect their footwear.”
Norris said most disease was spread through dirt and dirty boots were one way it could be passed on.
Fonterra regional food safety officer Peter Hammond said milk testing of all cows had almost been completed and had thrown up only one new case.
“So it is not widespread, which gives assurance that no new clusters were found.
“You might have had a letter or an email but unless you have had a visit from MPI it is all good.”
He said they could only say Mycoplasma bovis was not detected.
“It doesn’t say you haven’t got the disease, but only that it wasn’t detected in milk from your cows. Only lactating cows can be checked. There might be more testing in October to get autumn calving cows, then we’ll test until 2020 to get all calves as lactating dairy cows.”
Hammond said Mycoplasma bovis was a big wake-up call for the dairy industry with the national identification system (NAIT).
“It will be enforced. If you are non-compliant with NAIT, get compliant. Do it right.
“It is sobering, but the NAIT system will protect the dairy industry in the future.”
DairyNZ consulting officer, Jo Back said the farms with Mycoplasma bovis had good records and all stock could be traced easily.
But the dairy industry could be slow on using NAIT generally, she said.
“Have you tried to get onto a pig farm lately?”
Back said every farmer needed to keep their property safe.
“Talk to stock truck people, graziers, disinfect all people coming on to farm. If mud is off all boots or tyres, then that is 90 per cent of the job done.”
She said farmers should make sure any outside equipment entering a farm was sterilised and arrange with neighbours a two metre buffer zone on property boundaries.
“Use an outrigger electric fence or plant shelter on boundaries. Talk to neighbours and protect boundaries.”
She said staff including contract milking workers and calf rearers needed to think and talk about biosecurity on farms.
By: JILL GALLOWAY