Where else is M Bovis?

Mycoplasma bovis has been found in the North Island and Southland.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has identified 4 new properties as positive for the bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis and strongly suspects one further property.

One of the latest infected properties is in the Hastings district, the other 3 are within a farming enterprise in Winton. The suspect property is near Ashburton.

MPI’s Director of Response, Geoff Gwyn says early indications are that all the properties have links with the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group (VLDG) through cattle movements.

“The Hastings and Ashburton properties were identified through our tracing programme and the Winton property was identified through the industry milk testing programme.

“All of the movements we have been tracing are prior to 21 July, when the disease was first detected and notified to MPI.

The stock on these properties all has links back to the property where the disease was first identified.

The problem is no-one knows where it came from and how it got there.

It is possible, maybe probable, it is on other farms but hasn’t been identified which raises the question of where else it might be.

It carries no risk to people but it is serious in cattle and spreads from animal to animal.

“The Hastings and Winton properties are now under a Restricted Place Notice under the Biosecurity Act. This effectively places them in quarantine lockdown – restricting the movement of animals and other risk goods on and off the farm. The suspect property is under voluntary movement controls until their status is confirmed. MPI is working closely with them.

Mr Gwyn says these new developments are not good news.
“We’re still analysing what this means for the wider response. We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Our investigators are building a picture of stock movements onto and off these farms so we will not be making hasty decisions on next steps.

“While it’s really disappointing to have these new properties, it is not totally unexpected. We know that this disease is spread through contact between animals and through the movement of stock – as is the case here.

“It was always possible further infected properties would be found, buying, selling and moving stock is a common practice in farming. A key part of our response has been identifying and investigating animals that have moved to or from affected properties before Mycoplasma bovis was first detected. This tracing is complex detective work which takes time.

“I know an obvious question people will have is ‘Why has it taken this long to find these properties?’. The answer to that lies with the nature of this particular bacteria.

“It is a tricky thing to find and often hides within an animal, lying dormant and not revealing itself for weeks or months. Some cattle may be infected and never show signs of the disease. This is why we test multiple times using multiple kinds of tests. Sometimes to confirm the disease we have to test organ tissue from animals at slaughter as was the case in Hastings.

This is a very slow process which is frustrating and concerning  for everyone involved but the diffiuclty in identifying infected animals isn’t peculiar to Mycoplasma bovis.

Some cows in our herd tested positive for TB several years ago. The infected cows were killed, the herd was tested again and any cow that reacted was killed – most didn’t have the disease.

The herd eventually tested all clear but a couple of years later we got another positive test. We went through the same process and eventually the herd was cleared.

Some time after that a cow from our original herd dried herself off and was culled. When she was killed she was found to be riddled with TB. The vets said that was the carrier they’d been looking for and, if I understand what they said correctly, her system hadn’t reacted to the multiple tests she’d undergone because it was busy fighting the disease.

Mr Gwyn said MPI is continuing with its policy of not naming the affected properties if the owners did not want this.

MPI is prevented from doing otherwise by the Privacy Act. However, we do understand community concern about the disease and we are strongly encouraging farmers under controls or investigation to talk to their neighbours, customers and suppliers.”

That would be my advice.

Neighbours and anyone coming on to the farms will know which properties are under controls and the grapevine will be spreading the news.

It’s far better to be up front and give the facts than to let rumours spread based on only part of the story and misinformation.

Mr Gwyn said the depopulation programme is almost complete on the infected Van Leeuwen properties and is on track to be completed before Christmas. To date over 3,500 animals have been culled.

“Our extensive testing and tracing work also continues. So far the MPI lab has completed over 55,000 tests and our investigators have followed up 250 properties around the country.

“We encourage all farmers and rural contractors to help protect their farms and businesses by following standard on-farm hygiene best practice and to ensure their NAIT and all farm records are kept up to date.” Full information on hygiene measures and other resources are available on the MPI website.

“This is a really tough time for all the affected farmers who find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own. MPI, Rural Support Trusts and industry are supporting them but they will also need support from their neighbours and communities, especially at what is already a stressful time of year.”

MPI will be holding a public meeting in the Hastings area on the evening of Wednesday, 20 December. Time and venue are to be confirmed. Keep an eye of the MPI Facebook page for event details.

Federated Farmers echoes the advice on hygiene measures:

Good on-farm biosecurity and accurate tracing of animal movement is not an option in today’s world, it’s an imperative, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne said.

Positive tests for Mycoplasma bovis in herds in Hastings and Winton (Southland) and a suspected case in Ashburton further underline the need for farmers to treat biosecurity measures on their own properties as a top priority.

Federated Farmers and other industry leaders remain committed to eradicating Mycoplasma bovis, even though today’s announcement makes that a bigger but by no means impossible challenge, Katie said.

“Don’t rely on others to protect your patch, protect it yourself. In the end, we are all biosecurity officers with a role to play.”

Establishing a 1.5m buffer along fence lines with neighbouring properties should be standard practice. Where practical that could be a vegetation buffer, which would deliver biosecurity and biodiversity benefits. Close and repeated contact with an infected animal is still regarded as the most likely way Mycoplasma bovis is spread. As one farmer said at a recent meeting, “losing some grazing is a small cost compared to losing your herd”.

If vets and AI technicians are visiting your property make sure they have thoroughly cleaned their equipment before they arrive and do so before they leave, and provide hot water and disinfectant for their hands and equipment. Consider making a footbath and a scrubbing brush handy for the boots of all visitors coming onto, and leaving, your farm.

“Think about your own actions too. If you’re visiting a neighbour, clean your boots and any gear you might bring,” Katie said.

“Making sure your NAIT records are right up to date, giving special attention to recording stock movements. 100% compliance with traceability requirements [NAIT and Animal Status Declaration (ASD)] is not only vital for biosecurity but increasingly important as we sell our high quality product to discerning customers.”

Where practical, limit cattle movements onto your farm. Mycoplasma bovis can be present in apparently healthy animals and there is currently no sufficiently reliable, pre-movement test that can be applied to detect latent or hidden infection. Farmers with leased/loaned terminal bulls may need to think about sending them straight to slaughter. This may well mean a change in practice, but it’s well worth thinking about and discussing with the bulls’ owner.

Federated Farmers does not know who the newly-affected farmers are as their privacy is important, Katie said. “We certainly extend our best wishes to them in what will be a stressful time, and we will continue to work closely with MPI and other sector groups on this sensitive and vital issue.

“Federated Farmers has been helping affected farmers where we can and as we are asked. I encourage any of the new farmers to contact us or their local Rural Support Trust if they have any questions or want assistance.”

Other biosecurity measures farmers can take are listed on the MPI’s web page.

MPI knows where the disease was first identified but nobody knows where it came from.

Any farm with cattle could be harbouring the disease without knowing it.

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