Dairy cows graze in New Zealand© Nick Servian/robertharding/-REX/Shutterstock

Vets and farmers are ramping up farm biosecurity and milk testing across New Zealand to contain the country’s first known Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

Now confirmed on 20 dairy farms, the disease has mainly manifested itself as mastitis and swollen joints. The bacteria was first confirmed in July 2017.

Regional milk testing was extended nationally on 19 January by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). Stock from infected and neighbouring farms are also being tested.

The disease is primarily affecting the South Island, with 11 farms in the Waikati and Waimate districts of South Canterbury and six farms in Southland under quarantine lockdown.

See also: Safeguard your herd from Mycoplasma bovis

Farmer union Federated Farmers of New Zealand has called for “patience and a dose of realism” from farmers in light of unhelpful speculation around the origins of the disease.

What can farmers do?

Dairy NZ has advised farmers of three simple steps

  1. Boundaries Check fences are sound and secure. Mycoplasma bovis spreads mainly via animal-to-animal contact. When grazing near to neighbours put a 2m buffer strip in with temporary fencing.
  2. Cattle movement records Complete and check National Animal Identification and Tracing records, making sure they are up to date.
  3. Read up on biosecurity and best practice Download and complete a biosecurity checklist

Disease control has been made particularly challenging for drought-affected farms needing to buy in feed and move cattle to temporary grazing. Farms are advised to keep stock movement records up to date, check the biosecurity and heath statuses of other farms and screen all vehicles.   

How does it affect cows?

  • Untreatable mastitis in dairy and beef cows – antibiotics don’t work
  • Severe pneumonia in up to 30% of infected calves, starting as a hacking cough
  • Ear infections in calves, the first sign typically being one droopy ear, progressing to the second ear
  • Discharges and in some cases a head tilt
  • Abortions
  • Swollen joints and lameness (severe arthritis/synovitis) in all ages of cattle
  • Meningitis: Droopy ears – brain infection