Rich-lis­ter’s farm has cow disease

Waikato Times Weekend - - NEWS - GER­ARD HUTCHING

A South Can­ter­bury farm­ing cou­ple are ‘‘dev­as­tated’’ af­ter the first cases in New Zealand of the in­cur­able disease My­coplasma bo­vis were found in their cows.

Dairy farmer Aad van Leeuwen, who with his wife Wilma owns what has been de­scribed as the world’s largest ro­botic dairy barn, said he was re­signed to hav­ing the an­i­mals put down.

The iden­tity of the prop­erty where the disease was found this week has been the sub­ject of in­tense spec­u­la­tion af­ter 150 cat­tle were in­fected.

Pres­sure has been mount­ing within the farm­ing com­mu­nity for the cows to be put down so the disease does not spread.

The highly con­ta­gious disease is com­monly found through­out the world, but this is the first recorded case in New Zealand. Fed­er­ated Farm­ers vice-pres­i­dent An­drew Hog­gard said there was ‘‘no re­cov­ery, no cure’’.

The van Leeuwens’ dairy barn, in­land from the Makik­ihi town­ship about 35 kilo­me­tres south of Ti­maru, is about the size of two rugby fields. They out­laid $22 mil­lion, which in­cluded the price of the farm the barn is built on. The con­struc­tion of the barn, pur­chase and in­stal­la­tion of the ro­botic milk­ing ma­chines, cost about $9m.

They also have a num­ber of satel­lite farms in the re­gion. It was on one of these that the disease was found. At to­day’s val­ues, the cows would be worth about $300,000, but in­sur­ance will not cover the loss, in­clud­ing the lost pro­duc­tion.

The van Leeuwens made their de­but on the NBR rich list in 2015 with an es­ti­mated $65 mil­lion, and their wealth has re­mained sta­ble at $60m for the past two years, ac­cord­ing to the list.

Van Leeuwen said he had wanted to kill the an­i­mals as soon as they were di­ag­nosed, but had been ad­vised not to. It was in the in­ter­ests of the in­dus­try to con­tain the disease.

‘‘We said from day one that we wanted to do some­thing about it but we’ve been stopped by MPI and the meat in­dus­try who want to sort out first whether it’s safe to kill them. The em­bargo’s been lifted so they’ll go off soon.’’

He said it would be dif­fi­cult to trace how the disease ar­rived. He be­lieves it has been in New Zealand for some time but has only now been iden­ti­fied.

He would not be drawn on the path­way it ar­rived – ’’we sim­ply don’t know’’ .

My­coplasma bo­vis did not in­fect hu­mans and pre­sented no food safety risk, the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­try said. There was no con­cern about con­sum­ing milk and milk prod­ucts.

The disease could in­fect both calves and cows, but not other an­i­mals. It caused pneu­mo­nia, ud­der in­fec­tion (mas­ti­tis), abor­tion, arthri­tis, ten­dini­tis, mid­dle-ear in­fec­tion and en­dometrio­sis, and was po­ten­tially fa­tal to the an­i­mal.

Prime Min­is­ter Bill English has in­di­cated a likely way it came into the coun­try was through im­ported se­men and em­bryos.

Aus­tralian Univer­sity pro­fes­sor John House said it would have ei­ther come in through se­men and em­bryo im­ports, or bring­ing in con­tam­i­nated equip­ment. The disease sur­vives freez­ing.

The van Leeuwens did not them­selves im­port se­men or em­bryos but went through the ‘‘nor­mal chan­nels like any­one else’’. Live­stock ge­net­ics com­pa­nies im­port se­men and em­bryos to im­prove dairy herds.


The van Leeuwens’ mas­sive dairy shed, the largest ro­botic barn in the world, can house up to 1500 cows. In­set: Wilma and Aad van Leeuwen.

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