Call for farmers to be resilient
Farmers facing the threat of a disease that can decimate cattle herds have been urged to show resilience as officials seek to prevent its spread.
New Zealand’s first cases of Mycoplasma bovis have so far been isolated to two farms in the Van Leeuwan Dairy Group in South Canterbury.
The Ministry of Primary Industries has restricted the movement of cattle until it properly understands the scale of the outbreak and as it continues to test thousands of samples.
South Canterbury Rural Support Trust trustee Sarah Barr said the trust had been working with sharemilkers and managers within the affected dairy group.
‘‘They are all obviously concerned but they are resigned to see this thing out. They all want to know when we will be clear,’’ she said.
The trust was liaising with the ministry’s response centre in Oamaru, which was set up following the outbreak last month.
‘‘We just have to play the waiting game at this point.’’
It was tough when people were feeling low, but they needed to both seek resilience and not be afraid to ask for help when they needed it, she said.
‘‘We can connect them to the right people.’’
Well-organised meetings hosted by the ministry and other rural organisations at Papakaio and Waimate early this month meant the trust was not being inundated with questions.
There remained many unknowns about the disease because it was different every country it was found in, she said.
Marlborough farmer Doug Avery, author of the book The Resilient Farmer, said resilience was more important than ever.
‘‘Take your share of what you need to do but don’t overload yourself.
‘‘If you do feel overwhelmed, call a friend if you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.’’
Ministry director of response Geoff Gwynn said farmers most frequently asked what MPI was doing in response to the incursion.
Right now, the focus was on scoping up ‘‘what we are actually dealing with’’ in order to make good decisions on how the situation should be managed, Gwynn said.
‘‘Is it just in the Van Leeuwen group of farms? Is it in the region? How did it get here and has it been here for some time and is present around the country?’’
A picture was being built through a ‘‘robust surveillance programme of sampling and testing’’.
The disease did not spread fast by wind or water but it did spread through animal to animal contact and this may have occurred over fences, he said.
‘‘We’re working with dairy companies to look at the milk from animals in two districts around the VLDG – Waitaki and Waimate.
Testing was a huge job and the first priority was thoroughly checking the 16 Van Leeuwan properties and tracing any movements of stock from those farms.
‘‘Farms that have received animals from the VLDG are being contacted and animals tested. MPI is also sampling and testing animals on farms neighbouring the VLDG properties.’’
Animal Health Laboratory expected to test more than 39,000 samples during the surveillance programme.
‘‘So far we’ve received more than 6200 samples (of milk, blood or swabs) and of these almost 2500 have been tested.
‘‘We are reporting out results in batches and expect to report the second batch any time. We have adopted a new strategy of reporting results twice weekly.’’
Testing would determine whether the bacteria was present and if an animal has been exposed to the bacteria and has antibodies present.
‘‘Because a cow can be infected without showing symptoms, we have to test herds more than once over 3 – 4 months before we have definite results for each farm.’’
That meant farmers would have to wait some time before MPI could confirm that their herds are not infected.
Control measures were working, Gwynn said.
‘‘We have no evidence to date that there has been any spread of Mycoplasma bovis from the farms under Restricted Place Notices.
‘‘All 16 VLDG farms are under strict legal controls which mean animals and risk goods can only be moved out of the farms under permit from MPI.’’
Animals were only going off the farms to slaughter.
Author, farmer and NZ order of merit member Doug Avery is advising farmers to show resilience following the outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis in South Canterbury.