27 Jul 2017

Call to kill all cows infected by new disease

3:30 pm on 27 July 2017

The Ministry for Primary Industries should immediately kill all the cows infected by a disease previously unseen in New Zealand, says a farmer from the district where the disease has put a farm in lockdown.

Brighter Future - Dairy. Dairy farming family the Mathieson's, Ewen, Dianne and Melissa talk about the boom and bust of their industry since 2008 and how they got through some of the tougher times.

Dairy cows. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Ministry confirmed this week that Mycoplasma bovis had been found on a South Canterbury farm, the first time it had been found in New Zealand.

The highly contagious disease causes mastitis, pneumonia, abortions and lameness and death, which can also mean significant production losses for farmers.

MPI would not confirm which farm was infected, but RNZ understands it is near Oamaru.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association said out of a herd of 1000 milking cows about 150 cows were affected.

Dairy farmer Alan Gibson, who milks about 800 cows near Waimate, said farmers wanted definite action from the Ministry.

"There's talk in the community that these cows should be culled immediately, and then monitor the balance.

"While it's a huge impact to the farmer involved, there's a greater concern about the impact to the industry and how it might affect us all if it spreads more widely."

Mr Gibson said the lack of information from MPI was frustrating, and the farming community had only found out at the same time as the media.

MPI has set up an office in the Oamaru's Civil Defence/Plunket building to investigate the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

It said in a statement it was legally obliged to maintain the privacy of the infected farm, "unless there is a biosecurity requirement for the public good to do otherwise".

"MPI is actively tracing all risk materials on and off the affected property in the past six months. This is what MPI does in an animal disease situation.

"Any farmers who may have received any potential risk goods from the affected farm will be contacted urgently by MPI. There is no cause for community concern in this instance."

The ministry said it would not consider killing cows at this stage.

"Once we have defined the problem ... then we can look at management options which could include area movement controls, selective culling or long-term management.

"The decisions have not been made and won't be until we can make a fully informed judgement."

But Labour party spokesperson for Primary Industries and Biosecurity, Damien O'Connor, said this isn't good enough.

"All the cows and any with possible contact with any another cow ... should all be destroyed.

"It's logical, we do it with TB - this is a drastic action and it should be taken swiftly to try and eliminate any spread. I don't know why this decision has not been made."

Mr O'Connor said MPI should be more transparent about which farm was infected.

"This secrecy around this does not help anyone. We need to know if it might have come in in feed ... genetic material ... so other farmers can check their records and see if there is any possible way that they too might be facing this infection."

Mr O'Connor said he felt the situation was being managed for political purposes because it had happened in the lead-up to an election.

Devastation across the Tasman

The highly contagious cattle disease has devastated some Australian farms, says Australia's dairy industry.

Dairy Australia's Animal Health and Fertility Manager, Kathryn Davis, said the disease has been bad news for Australia.

"The farms have been in all our dairy regions so there is no particular geographic distribution, but the most impacted farms have tended to be the very large farms."

The disease shows up in a variety of ways, said Ms Davis.

"Some farms have been impacted by cases of mastitis that just don't clear up with antibiotic treatment, others have had problems with their calf health, others have seen the disease manifest in lameness or death.

"We've had large farms where it's been quite devastating as far as the number of animals that have been effected, they've had to do a lot of culling or they've lost young stock and cows from the milking herd."

Ms Davis said Mycoplasma bovis was first found in 2006, and it was unknown how it got into the country. She said it could have been in Australia for a time before it showed up.

"The problem with Mycoplasma is that you can have a carrier status and animals can look quite healthy and at some stage they break down... and then they become clinical cases.'

Since the disease arrived farmers have been using a PCR test, which is a test that detects evidence of infection in bulk milk, said Ms Davis.

"We've been encouraging farmers if they're buying in animals from a milking herd they should check the status of the herd of origin using that PCR test.

"It's just a simple and relatively inexpensive test that is quite accurate to see if that herd has mycoplasma in it or not."

Bad timing for farmers

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the spread of disease to New Zealand is worrying.

"It's a concern. First and foremost for the farmer affected and for the animals that are affected as well...surrounding farmers they'll be feeling a bit stressed right now.

"Clearly they've been hammered by floods down that way too which just makes it even worse, plus you've got calving happening and so from that perspective it's bad timing.. no time is a good time for something like this, but now particularly is not good."

Dr Mackle said any farmer worried about the disease should contact their vet and farm advisor.

The Veterinary Association's Dairy Cattle Resource Manager, Neil MacPherson, said farmers should watch out for cows with mastitis that aren't getting better with treatment.

"It's generally non responsive mastitis that we see, so it can be multiple quarters not responding to conventional mastitis treatment.

"We see arthritis as well, so lameness swollen joints and abortions occurring, and pneumonia and lameness in young calves as well, these are the things farmers and vets are on the look out for at the moment."

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