These are words to strike fear into the heart of many farmers. However, as lifestyle farmers there are far fewer risks for you and your cattle than there are for many commercial dairy farmers. Big commercial farms are certainly being hit hardest. So what does this outbreak mean to us as lifestyle farmers?

We hope this article will help clarify the situation.

If you have only a few cattle beasts – perhaps a few beef cattle or a house cow or two – it is extremely unlikely that your cattle are infected. There would be a risk if in the last three years you have sourced calves or cows from an infected herd. If this is the case it’s likely that by now you will have been contacted by MPI, who are tracing the movement of all cattle from known infected properties as part of an eradication programme.

Most of the cases so far have been on commercial dairy farms, but one beef farm has just been discovered. The disease has been spread from farm to farm by movement of infected cattle (ie cattle that carry the bacteria in their body), and it can be spread on the farm by direct contact between cattle, or from cows to calves in milk. It isn’t spread by wind but might possibly be spread by dirty stock trucks, clothes or equipment.

The disease is not widespread, it is limited to a network of farms connected by cattle movements.

Other livestock species are highly unlikely to become infected – Mycoplasma bovis is specific to cattle. The bacteria do not survive for long outside their cattle host, however any object such as AI gear could theoretically transfer bacteria from one cattle beast to another. Mycoplasma bovis poses no health risk to other farm animals, or to humans.

The main problem when it comes to eradication is that it is difficult to detect infected cattle that are carrying the bacterium without showing signs of disease, and that can be up to 90% of cattle on the farm.

Usually these cattle can be detected by blood or milk tests. These are being carried out by MPI on all cattle thought to have been in contact with infected cattle. As well as this, extensive screening tests are being carried out on bulk milk samples from dairy farms across the country.
MPI has strict movement controls in place to stop the disease spreading further than it already has. When the infection is detected, the only way to eliminate it from the herd is to cull all the cattle. This is of course hugely distressing to the farmers whose apparently healthy productive cows are sent for slaughter. They need our support.

It seems likely that more infected herds will be discovered as testing continues, but MPI hopes that the steps taken so far will make real progress towards eliminating the disease. A further round of national bulk milk surveillance testing will be carried out in spring to assess the effect of the operation.

The disease was first recorded in this country in July last year, and at the time of writing it has been recorded on 36 farms - in Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Manawatu, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

There are at-risk cattle on a further 2000 farms, 300 farms are in biosecurity lockdown and 658 are under surveillance. So far 29,000 cattle have been culled, and another 127,000 will be culled in the next two years.

In most western countries, Mycoplasma bovis infections are well established. New Zealand cattle have only recently become infected and the disease is not widespread, and MPI considers that eradication is achievable. If we are successful, we would be the first country in the world to achieve eradication. While the effort will be expensive and laborious, MPI considers it would be well worth while.

What can you do?

If you suspect you have cattle that could have the disease contact your vet.

Ensure your cattle have NAIT tags and their records are up to date.

Don’t bring any cattle onto your property unless you can be sure they have not come from an infected farm.

Signs of Mycoplasma bovis disease:

In adult cattle, the signs of clinical M bovis infection are severe arthritis and severe mastitis in dry and milking cows that doesn’t respond to treatment, late term abortions, premature calves, and pneumonia and ear inflammation in calves.

There is a great deal more information about Mycoplasma bovis on MPI’s website

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