THE farm, with its unfortunate animals, will now be “depopulated,” meaning the cows will be killed. File photo

OPOTIKI dairy farmer and regional council chairman Doug Leeder has criticised protocols for dealing with Mycoplasma Bovis, which fail to prioritise the early alerting of farm neighbours, milk processing companies and councils.

He said news that a Waiotahe dairy farm had been infected with M. Bovis – the first farm in the Bay of Plenty to be officially confirmed with the bacterium – was “very disappointing”.

Although not adjacent, the infected Sybton Farm is a neighbour of Mr Leeder, who describes protocols around advising neighbouring farms as “less than desirable”.

“If a farm is infected, they suggest the neighbouring farms erect another fence at the inside of the existing fence, so stock cannot lean across and make contact with one another.”

However, some time can pass between a farm being suspected of having the bacteria until it’s confirmed and notified, leaving a gap for the disease to spread.

Mr Leeder said Bay farmers had done a good job of staying clear until now.

He said farmers were generally pragmatic people and “if your neighbour has been unfortunate to get this disease, they would appreciate early notification so they can protect themselves”.

“But if you don’t know, then it’s bloody hopeless,” he said.

In this case, it was “jungle drums” that alerted Mr Leeder to the problem, not any official notifications to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council or farmers.

“It began as rumours floating around, but how do you confirm it?” Mr Leeder said.

“THE privacy concerns need to be revised.”

Mr Leeder, speaking as a farmer, said that under its previous owners, the affected farm was a well-run dairy farm with a locally-bred herd, confined farm interactions and “minimal risk”.

“The neighbours would have thought it was the same situation under the new ownership.”

Notification to farmers that the farm was infected came shortly before Opotiki News broke the story last week.

“From the regional council point of view, there needs to be a balance between privacy concerns and what’s best for the district,” Mr Leeder said.

“The land management staff at the regional council were not aware of this until they heard it on the jungle drum.”

Mr Leeder said veterinarians and milk processing companies, to the best of his knowledge, had not received early warnings either.

“Milk processing companies and vets have special protocols for handling this situation, but they weren’t aware until it was publicly notified,” he said. “To me, that’s not best practice.”

Mr Leeder said the investigation into whether a farm had M.bovis was typically started after milk screening revealed that a farm “had a problem”.

“They then come and blood test every cow, and this can take a while,” he said.

From a regional council point of view, it was “only reasonable” that neighbouring farmers were advised that such an investigation was taking place, even before the confirmation result was available.

“I think that the protocol is that it’s up to the farmer to tell the neighbours, and I don’t know if that happened in this case,” Mr Leeder said.

“Leaving it until the disease is confirmed via blood tests is not very good.”

The unfortunate farm, with its unfortunate animals, would now be “depopulated,” which means they will all be killed.

“I think that started last week,” Mr Leeder said.

“And MPI will now have to track all the stock movements over the past 12 months or two years.”

Any bull calves sold by the farm in the time leading up the disease confirmation now needed to be followed up on by the officials.

“They are going to have to find where they all went, and when they find them, I don’t know if they test them or if they cut their heads off as well,” Mr Leeder said.

“We’ve just been through a calving season and I don’t know how many cows they milk at the farm.”

Mr Leeder said the farmer was likely to have sold a couple of hundred bull calves all around the district and those calves now had to be traced.

“It’s highly likely there will be other notifications in the Eastern Bay that farmers should be aware of,” he said.

“The community needs to be aware that any sold bull calves will need to be traced and they will probably be disposed of as well.”

Beef farms test positive

OPOTIKI dairy farmer and Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder says the Mycoplasma Bovis bacteria is not only a problem for the dairy farmers but is making serious inroads into beef farming.

“The problem started in dairy farms, but the beef farmers are buying bull calves from the dairy farmers,” he said.

“As at the middle of January, 118 beef properties have tested positive for mycoplasma Bovis.”

Beef and Lamb New Zealand are working alongside DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries on the response to the disease.

Mr Leeder said almost all confirmed cases among beef farmers had involved movements or contact with dairy cattle, rather than traditional beef breeds, beef-breeding herds or stud animals.

As a result, beef farmers were increasingly concerned and a comprehensive survey and testing regime would be embarked upon.

“They are starting blood tests in large numbers, which will be done in conjunction with the regular TB tests that are done on the farms,” Mr Leeder said.

“Even farms that haven’t had any contact with infected farms will be tested, as to confirm that the disease isn’t present outside the high-risk farms.”

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz