Mycoplasma highlights importance of farm biosecurity

By Ash Keown, Te Awamutu

I’ve been fielding a number of questions around the district in the past few weeks about Mycoplasma bovis as the situation in Canterbury continues to develop.

In cattle Mycoplasma bovis most commonly causes mastitis, pneumonia, and arthritis. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to treat – as many antibiotics are not effective. New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world where this disease is not widespread in the cattle population.

Overseas, control of Mycoplasma is all about biosecurity – keeping your herd ‘closed and clean’.

Biosecurity is often overlooked by New Zealand farmers, because this country has so few ‘bad’ diseases. There are many diseases farmers could control more effectively by thinking about keeping their herd ‘closed and clean’ – such as Calf scours, BVD, Johne’s, mastitis (especially Staph aureus), Digital dermatitis, Brucella ovis, Leptospirosis, drench-resistant worms, antibiotic-resistant bugs……the list goes on!

How many farmers buying 4 day old calves at the sales insist that these calves are tested BVD-free?

How many ‘in milk’ cows come with herd-test records to show they aren’t infected with Staph? Did you check her feet for digital dermatitis?

Many of the animal diseases we have in this country don’t cause immediate damage or death – but they certainly affect production, animal health, human health, and ultimately – your bottom line!

Biosecurity doesn’t need to be expensive, or difficult. It just requires a bit of thought – assess the risks, and do your best to reduce any risks.

Easy examples are:

Don’t introduce animals into your herd without knowing their disease status – ask to see evidence of a ‘clean’ test (including young stock, and bulls!!).

Don’t use milk from other farms to feed your calves – many bugs are present in milk, and will readily infect calves (including Mycoplasma, Salmonella, and Johne’s…).

Vaccinate your animals – especially young stock, and bulls. Young stock at grazing are at the highest risk of coming into contact with other infected animals, and bulls can easily ruin a clean herd.

Avoid sharing equipment between farms, and thoroughly disinfect anything you get ‘second-hand’.

Watch your boundaries – when grazing boundary paddocks, make sure there are no animals across the fence. Coordinate with neighbours to avoid contact across the fence. If you really can’t make it work, set up a hot-wire 3m from the boundary so animals are well separated.

Consider a ‘quarantine zone’ – most of the traffic (and therefore the risk) is around the tanker loop, or loading ramps. These areas are ‘dirty’, so consider ways to reduce movement or equipment/animals between this area and the rest of the farm which is ‘clean’.

Provide good facilities for visitors to clean & disinfect boots, waterproofs and equipment. Supply hot and cold water with good brushes and disinfectant.

Hopefully Mycoplasma bovis won’t become widespread in New Zealand. But farmers should consider whether their current biosecurity measures would protect them from Mycoplasma, or any of the other diseases which are already widespread. A few changes could keep your herd ‘closed and clean’, and shut-out costly diseases from your farm!