Counting the cost of facial eczema strikes

Daryl and Chris Breen lost two cows to facial eczema.

Daryl and Chris Breen lost two cows to facial eczema.

A sharefarming couple say they're prepared to spend big money fighting facial eczema in future rather than lose cows again to the liver-attacking fungal disease.

Waerenga, north Waikato sharemilkers Chris and Daryl Breen, soon heading to a new job in Northland, lost two of their favourite cows in this warm, moist autumn's facial eczema scourge, described by DairyNZ as a "shocker" in the Waikato.

Chris Breen said 20 of their 230-cow herd had shown clinical symptoms. The couple had "religiously" monitored spore counts on the farm and had started adding zinc to the herd's water supply in January, she said.

When it become obvious some cows were not coping the couple started zinc bullet treating, repeating the treatment on cows they were most worried about.

Even if it cost close to $10,000 for bullet treatments in future "we would rather do that than lose a cow".

The eight and nine year old cows that died were worth $1600 each and were in-calf, she said.

"We did a lot of work on those two, including electrolytes, but it was just too quick."

Under their Waerenga contract, the Breens had to buy the herd already on the farm and they think the hardest hit cows had been affected by facial eczema before. 

"We were able to see the signs quickly. They were losing weight and you can act quickly when you have a small herd, especially if two of you know the cows well. They actually dried themselves off," Chris Breen said.

She said affected cows were so "irate" milking cups could not be put on them. 

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Their next destination, Northland, is also a facial eczema hot zone, but with meal feeders on site they will be able to take the extra precaution of adding zinc oxide to feed.

For Mangara Station, Rangitikei, farm manager Daniel Clayton, 28, the outbreak among his sheep was "a real eye-opener".

"This area is known to get facial eczema from time to time and I've talked to people who have been through bad years but until it happens to you it's hard to get a true understanding of it."

He manages 400 hereford cows and 4000 ewes and young stock on the 900 hectare Morrison Farming property.

The cattle seem to have escaped but Clayton estimates about 2 per cent of ewes showed clinical signs, with around 450 other animals likely to have been affected.

"We're told 90 per cent will be sub-clinical for every 10 per cent showing clinical signs. But we'll only see come winter time if the wheels fall off then.

"We haven't done zinc injections or capsules or spraying but we're going down the genetics track. This is the third year we've facial eczema tested our stud rams and we're buying in high tolerance rams from different studs."

The farm is focusing on coopworths because of their genetic diversity and long testing background, he said.

Sheep with clinical signs that were not euthanased, he sent to a good feed paddock with shade, hoping they would recover.

"It was soul-destroying seeing the clinical ones but the other half of the story is what we can't see. It will come out at scanning time and lambing time when the pressure is on and the stress is on the animals whether it's weather or feed."

Spraying and trough zinc treatment is not practical on hill country, he said.

"It's more about knowing the farm and knowing the hotspots and where we got caught out, and we've done that."

The farm may do its own spore counts in future instead of relying on local monitor farm readings, he said.

"It's an expensive way to learn but it took that to really hammer home how devastating it can be."

Fordell, near Whanganui, stock manager Ben Luscombe, 28, said his 600ha sheep and beef block had been hit.

No stranger to facial eczema having grown up on a King Country farm, he saw 20 "really bad" two-tooths during a recent draft.

"They're probably going to die, and some have, and quite a few others were starting to show signs. The ones that weren't too bad I gave them a chance so put them in with a light mob that were going on to better feed."

The farm owner helicopter-sprayed the flat lamb-finishing land and also a hill block where replacement ewe lambs were run. 

"We didn't get too many (affected) in the lamb crop. We have quite a few cases among our replacements," Luscombe said.


 - Stuff

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