Gillian Saich from Invercargill is new to dairy farming and was thrilled when a dairy farmer offered her work experience on his farm.
It’s estimated that a bad case of FE can cost up to $113 per cow in lost production.
The farmers asked their DairyNZ consulting officer Kate Stewart to organise a discussion of FE and 30 farmers turned up recently to hear a local vet and a DairyNZ expert on the subject. They met at Graeme Richfield’s farm near Tokomaru.
Richfield milks 220 Jersey cows on his 85ha block, each year battling FE. Proactive in his approach, each January he takes grass samples to Totally Vets at Palmerston North who measure the spores.
He says he takes samples from different paddocks to make sure he gets a good representative sample that will pick up any sign of FE on the farm.
“I started monitoring about six years ago and our start time depends on the weather conditions. It may be late January or February and we continue into April or May, again depending on conditions.”
Like most farmers he puts zinc in the stock water to help prevent FE taking hold.
Local vet Ryan Carr, of Totally Vets, says FE has been a consistent problem in the area every year and he says he’s noticed spore counts appear to be rising every year. He says the counts used to be about 100,000, now he says they are around 500,000.
Totally Vets has a series of monitor farms in the region and they take samples from them every week from when FE is likely to appear. This gives farmers a general warning, but he says farmers have to look at their own farms closely to see how these may be affected.
“The first real obvious sign of FE on a farm is when cows show signs of being irritated and start seeking shade. It will then progress to obvious signs with the skin looking horribly sunburnt.
“I have seen black Angus cows before and they are obviously uncomfortable and losing weight but you can’t see anything on their skin. It’s only when you look inside their mouth that you can see their tongue is burnt and their nose is burnt. Before these signs there will be a noticeable drop in milk production.”
But Carr says by this time the damage to the cow’s liver is done and all that can be done is make the cow comfortable by providing her with shade.
The DairyNZ answer
Chris Glassey, a farm systems specialist at DairyNZ, was the main speaker at the meeting.
He says traditionally FE has been a North Island problem but it is now spreading into many parts of the South Island.
FE is a hard disease for farmers to control because on each farm some paddocks may be more susceptible than others.
It’s a disease farmers must prevent, so it is wise of the Manawatu farmers to prepare for the onset of FE in the new year.
“There is a lot of material on the DairyNZ website on how farmers can prevent the disease. We have funded a veterinarian to do some research for us and her findings are on the web site,” he says.
But personally Glassey says he’d like to see more emphasis on breeding cows tolerant to FE.