A positive sign for the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme is that a clear majority of infected farms are now beef rather than dairy.
Mark and Michelle Bocock annually rear about 4500 calves, all from dairy farms, and recognising milk as among the “biggest risks of spreading the disease” Mark said they had no option but to buy the unit.
“Some rearers I’ve talked to won’t be rearing calves this year because it’s simply too difficult in this M.bovis environment -- having to keep mobs separate and the added cost of feeding milk powder from day one because you can no longer, safely, feed raw farm milk.”
Bocock admits he has had to rethink every aspect of his business.
“We will only be buying from known herds that we have dealt with for a long time and won’t buy any stock from saleyards.
“All our farmers have high biosecurity and run effectively closed farms with few stock movements on and off, but we will also seek reassurance about test results for the [supplying] farm and/or whether it has been subject to M.bovis tracing by MPI.
“We pick up and transport all calves, and keep each mob separate for a time to observe and have confidence in their health status before they join larger mobs.”
The Bocock purpose-built calf transporter will be strenuously cleaned before and after each calf pick-up, “as much to protect our business as those of our farmers. They need to know we’re not going to compromise their biosecurity.”
Most of the 4500 calves reared at the Bocock operation are Friesian bulls, with the balance white-faced dairy/beef calves.
All are reared to 100kg and then on-sold to finishers. NAIT compliance is strictly adhered to both with bought and sold animals, with the Bococks doing all the transfers so they [and their farmers] ‘know it’s been done.’ ”
They feed calves a mix of farm milk and milk powder. Starting this spring, raw milk will be pasteurised then stored in two new 20,000L stainless steel vats and fed to the calves.
“Milk is the biggest risk of transmitting M.bovis; it only takes one cow in a herd to shed the organism to contaminate an entire vat of milk. If you fed that to calves it would effectively pass on the organism.
“We traditionally pick up farm milk in our own truck in the early days of calving – before the farm has built up sufficient volumes for the tanker to call – and should any contain M.bovis it will be killed by the pasteurisation.”
Michelle Bocock has developed a comprehensive overview of the farm’s biosecurity standards, for the rearing operation and what they expect and need from their farmer clients.
Despite the hefty cost and extra work, Mark Bocock (a member of the Beef + Lamb NZ Dairy Beef Integration Project) remains optimistic about the dairy industry as the source of quality table beef.
“The dairy industry is the engine room of the country’s beef industry and in recent years more farmers have bred the balance of the herd – after replacements – to proven beef sires to produce calves in demand by rearers and ultimately by finishers and processors.
“My advice to farmers is to… increase their calf cheque by breeding the balance of the herd to quality proven beef genetics.
“DairyNZ and MPI have developed clear informative advice to guide you through calf rearing and mating to keep your farm safe.