Farmers warned of high facial eczema risk

Last updated 08:13 19/03/2013
Mike Single
Peter Drury/FAIRFAX NZ
STILL SCORCHED: Scotsman’s Valley farm worker Mike Single with his dogs Blue and Scamp.

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Dairy farmers need to be on high alert against underfeeding their cows now that some rain has fallen on drought-parched Waikato, says Livestock Improvement's FarmWise service.

Generally cow condition is still "very acceptable" but with the weekend rain not enough to break the drought, dry matter in the paddocks will start to decompose and farms are moving into a feed high-risk period leading to May 31, winter and calving, says FarmWise manager Jon Nicholls.

"They've got to feed them. The rule of thumb is to double the amount of supplement you have been giving."

Meanwhile, vets are predicting the risk of facial eczema, which had been low until the weekend, will soar with the rain and associated muggy heat.

The senior veterinarian at Anexa Te Aroha, Jan Meertens, said there could well be an "explosion" of facial eczema spores as a result of the decomposing dry grass.

Preparing cows by building up facial eczema prevention a week before spore counts rose was simply good risk management and farmers should have done it "yesterday", he said. Most farmer-clients in his area had dried off their herds, he said.

With ewes soon to go for mating, facial eczema monitoring and prevention was also critical in the sheep and beef sector, said Beef + Lamb NZ chairman Mike Petersen.

The effects of facial eczema could affect an animal for its lifetime, he said.

"It's important to make sure you are monitoring, and there are a number of services for this, and to stay away from facial eczema hot spots. Many farmers will know where these are on the farm, and there are some treatments."

MetService is forecasting showers for the Waikato today and then it's back to warm days of settled weather with no rain in sight. A weak front will approach by Sunday, but meteorologist John Law was not expecting it to deliver significant rain.

A south-west change from today will lower day temperatures slightly to around 21 to 22 degrees Celsius, he said.

The weekend rain delivered around 45mm of rain to parts of Waikato towards the Kaimai Ranges, while the Hamilton and Matamata areas received 12-13mm.

FarmWise's Nicholls said he had reports of pockets of the Waikato getting up to 40mm of rain but more generally, 10-30mm. Dairy farmers now had 180 days of feed deficit to work through until spring growth.

It was important to have a plan, to work out what the feed situation would be in three months time. "Supplies are definitely tight. If you haven't got feed planned, and if you want it in the next two weeks, that will be very, very challenging. But if you predict you will be very short of feed in three months time, it is much more manageable."

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With rain came challenges such as when to undersow and spread urea, facial eczema and an associated huge demand on contractors, vets and rural suppliers, Nicholls said.

He said one of the most useful things drought-struck farmers could do was get off the farm, even for a drive.

"It's amazing how much better they will feel, it's incredibly therapeutic. It's good to talk to others and see others in the same position."

Farmers would generally find their banks, suppliers or vets, very supportive at this time, he said.

While it was true that lessons had been learned from the harsh 2007-2008 drought, the current event was a different drought and was lasting longer.

"Most people can plan very plan for the (normal) six-week dry period, but for 10 weeks is so much harder. You learn by working through the situation."

The vast majority of Waikato farmers were on once-a-day milking, he said.

- Waikato

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