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Mycoplasma Bovis
7 June 2018 - John Meban (BVSc)
M.Bovis image
Mycoplasma Bovis - possible implications to the local beef industry.

Good news, the government announced on the 28th of May to continue down the pathway of eradication for this new disease. Eradication won’t be easy, now is our best chance rather than being faced with living with the disease. We need to keep an open mind on how M Bovis may affect our local cattle. There is no room for complacency. M Bovis will come into any area on a stock truck. Cattle trading is an integral part on the fabric of NZ farming and should not be considered a dodgy practice. Without trading the alternative is sales to the works which does not suit many farming systems. Any movement of livestock carries inherent risk of potential disease transfer or introduction, be it Tb, Johne’s disease, parasite resistance, viral pneumonia just to name a few. Appropriate risk assessment and management needs to be put around any introduction of animals to your property. Be aware of the likely level of risk. If you follow sensible precautions this risk can be greatly minimised. In future if M Bovis becomes widespread we will see less animal movements and a move towards more closed herds. However, we will still need the input of genetically superior sire animals from trusted sources. Less stock movements means reduced risk.

A topical question has been around the risk of M. Bovis when buying in sire bulls. In my opinion the risk is currently very low to negligible. Reputable stud breeders are very proactive and aware or the risks M.Bovis has to their business and are taking appropriate biosecurity measures. Buy with confidence but after due inquiry.

What impact M, Bovis will have on the NZ Beef industry if it was to become established has been a subject of a study of a group of national and international experts. In well managed beef properties the disease may smoulder away unnoticed unless animals are unduly stressed. Beef animals tend to be farmed less intensively in NZ than elsewhere and as transmission is mainly by close contact the spread within herds may not be as rapid as in dairy herds. There are some exceptions such as calf rearing and feedlotting where risks are higher. This is not a ticket for complacency. Lets work together and eradicate this disease.

Currently M. Bovis is restricted primarily to cattle of Dairy or dairy beef origin that have been directly traced back infected South Island source farms. Our district is not immune. You can look on the MPI website and see trace farms all over the North Island that have some potential links with infected South Island properties. In most cases these have been or will be cleared, but don’t be surprised if infected properties pop up in the future locally. MPI believe the disease is still limited to one network of farms connected by animal movements, it is not widespread and there is just one strain of the disease out there.

M Bovis is very difficult to test for and can’t be reliably identified at an individual animal level. It spreads mainly by close contact and feeding milk from infected cows to calves. Seemingly healthy animals can still carry the infection and infect others. Symptoms only appear when an animal is under stress of some sort. On a whole-herd basis – if one animal is infected, it is highly likely others are as well. Eradication remains feasible while the disease remains confined to a network of farms connected by traceable animal movements.

What you can do to maximise the chances of success of eradication.

Know and report suspected signs of M Bovis to your vet or MPI 0800809666 –  non-responsive mastitis, pneumonia, late term abortion and arthritis

Keep NAIT records up-to- date and follow new changes to NAIT.

Before buying enquire thoroughly about herd health history, are dairy grazers or bull beef systems operating on source farms. Find out as much as you can about source farms. What is there biosecurity policy. Have your own farm biosecurity policy.

Rural communities need to look after one another. If you or someone you know or care about is struggling – contact a GP or your other community support services.

Recent incursions of Theileria and M. Bovis are a wakeup call for all farmers. We need to be constantly mindful of BIOSECURITY and good trading practices starting at an individual farm level.

This infection is difficult to identify, hard to test for and hard to treat but not insurmountable. By working together, we can beat this beast and secure our future with an M. Bovis free New Zealand.

John Meban (BVSc)