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Culling starts as cattle disease creeps closer

Incurable cattle disease at doorstep

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The threat to Wairarapa farmers from the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is greater than ever after the disease was found on a Landcorp-owned farm near Pahiatua on Thursday.

The Ministry of Primary Industries announced the infected property as the second farm in the North Island to test positive.

State-owned enterprise Landcorp confirmed its Rangedale Station property, a 1380ha sheep and beef operation, about 50km east from Pahiatua, was the infected farm.

Landcorp head of communications Simon King said the culling of 300 cattle was under way on Thursday.

The station bought several bulls in November last year from a Hawke’s Bay property and in early March was informed that “some of those bulls” had been traced to an infected farm and required blood sampling.

The farm manager and Landcorp informed farmers from neighboring properties last week of the suspected infection, and then held a meeting on Thursday to confirm the positive testing.

“Once we became aware that we had purchased stock from an infected farm, we began testing animals and self-imposed an animal movement ban from the property.”

The incurable disease was first detected on two dairy farms owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group near Oamaru in July last year.

It can infect both calves and cows with symptoms including pneumonia, udder infection [mastitis], and arthritis.

According to the ministry, there is no concern about consuming milk and milk products from infected cows, and the disease is not a human or food risk.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon said this week’s detection was a concern for Wairarapa farmers.

“The fact we are still finding outbreaks months and months after the first outbreak is hugely concerning,” Mr Falloon said.

Planned stock movements ahead of winter grazing would increase the risk of the disease spreading, he said.

Mr Falloon expected the disease to appear in more places as it seemed to hide, and then just “pop-up”.

He sympathised for the farmers involved and those on neighbouring properties.

MPI’s director of response Geoff Gwyn said while this was the second North Island detection it should not be considered a major turning point in the response.

“This Pahiatua detection is part of the large network of associated farms that we are finding,” he said.

“The farmer concerned has been very cooperative with movement controls and has not moved any animals off the property, except to slaughter, since even before legal restrictions were issued.”

As well as the Pahiatua property, MPI also confirmed two further positive tests in properties in Southland.

Tararua Mayor and Eketahuna dairy farmer Tracey Collis said her main concern was the well-being of Pahiatua farmers.

“I’m sad for the sheep and beef farm involved, and the uncertainty this brings to their farm and the surrounding farms,” she said.

The disease was new to the North Island which meant many locals would be wanting to understand more about what the disease meant for them, she said.

“To find that it’s in our district, that will be a shock,” she said.

It was critical all farmers recorded stock movement which would reach its peak by the end of the month, she said.

“From my understanding there will be no stock moved from that property,” she said.

The disease detection was not just about the stock, but farmers too.

“It will create a lot of angst in the community, so my message is talk to your neighbours about it, and to be informed.”

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott slammed the ministry’s lack of detail around the containment of outbreaks.

“Farmers across the region need to know this type of information so that they can take proactive measures to protect their animals.

“The MPI response to date has been feeble. It is not good enough,” he said.

Nine months since first detection

The infectious cow disease, Mycoplasma bovis, was first detected in July last year on two dairy farms near Oamaru.

There are now 35 infected properties quarantined under movement restrictions.

The disease has spread to two properties in the North Island, one near Hastings, and one near Pahiatua.

In the South Island, it has spread to Canterbury [two properties], Ashburton [seven], North Otago [10], Middlemarch [two], and Southland including Winton, Lumsden, Invercargill and Gore [12].

In late March, MPI decided to cull all cattle on the 28 infected properties at the time.

This was in order to control the spread of the disease and was expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The disease spreads from animal to animal through close contact and bodily fluids.

However, the disease is mostly spread through the movement of cattle from farm to farm.

MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and associate Minister of Agriculture Meka Whaitiri said the latest infected farm was identified as a result of the government’s “ongoing robust tracing activity”, and “does not necessarily mean the disease is spreading further”.

“We acknowledge this is a difficult time for all farmers, especially those whose herds are culled and encourage them to take advantage of the support teams on the ground. The Government is making tough decisions and taking every action possible to keep eradication on the table.”

Farmers who have a sick animal or are concerned, can phone the Mycoplasma hotline on [0800 008333], or email [email protected].

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