'COMMON COURTESY' shown by dog owners is the key to overcoming the sheep measles dilemma posed when duck shooters and hunters visit farms, according to Dan Lynch, Project Manager Ovis Management Ltd. 'It is just common sense that when you enter someone else's private property you respect their land'.

Access across farmland to public waterways and hunting grounds has long been a custom in New Zealand. Lately though, with the increasing awareness of sheep measles, sheep farming landowners are taking a much sterner approach to this public privilege.

This tougher approach is occurring nationwide, throughout areas frequented by duck shooters and hunters. In the Central Otago region, a link has been made between farms infected with sheep measles and public access ways across farms. Dog owners not educated on the issue of sheep measles, and who utilise these access ways have the ability to put farmers in grave financial danger.

Dogs are the sole distributors of sheep measles. Dog owners entering the private property must ensure their canine friend is incapable of spreading the infection. Dogs must be fed properly and dosed against the infection. Sheep or goat meat fed to dogs must be treated, either by freezing it for at least 7 days or cooking it at 72 degrees throughout.

The process of infection begins with the dog eating raw meat infected by sheep measles. The dog then develops tapeworm in its intestine that shed eggs via the dog's faeces. These eggs have the ability to survive on pastures for up to six months. Sheep then ingest these eggs, which develop into cysts found in the muscle tissue. Each cyst contains a tapeworm head that if eaten by the dog, begins this cycle again.

Joyce and Jeff Brown of Locharburn station in Central Otago, know first-hand the effects of sheep measles with outbreaks on their property occurring in the last few years. The Browns vigorously dose their dogs for the infection, which is why they are certain dogs using their access way to a river running through their property are spreading the disease.

The Browns have taken advice from Rex Parkin of Central Vets, Alexandra, who operates a programme that assists farmers in the control of sheep measles. The programme has encouraged them to put up "no dogs" signs across their farm. These are to make the public aware of the dangers dogs pose on the land. The Browns have found in the past that many dog owners think farmers are solely concerned with visiting dogs that worry or chase their sheep when instead their fundamental concern is the spread of this dog-carrying disease. Ideally, Joyce Brown would like to see more dog owners carrying certificates as proof of dog dosing. 'We have no problem with people coming onto our property, we just want some control over it".

While sheep measles is not a human health risk they are viewed as a quality defect within the national and overseas meat market. Infected meat destined for the overseas market can be met with total rejection by meat processing companies resulting in a major financial setback for the producer. Farmers must then ask themselves, is it worth the risk to have dog owners using access ways across their land when their own well-being is put at risk?

When it comes to the rights of free access to public property Rex Parkin believes these rights 'apply only to people and not dogs'. Therefore obeying the rules of the landowner such as presenting a certificate or proof that the dog has been dosed, 'is a small ask' says Parkin, 'when considering the farmers' generosity in giving you access'.

Mike Britton, assistant director of the Fish and Game Council, believes there are huge benefits for hunters and duck shooters who dose their dogs regularly. 'Not only will they obtain greater co-operation with landowners, but their reputation amongst the community will improve also'. Britton points out that there are anti-hunters in the community who view hunters as irresponsible. He sees dosing dogs as a stepping-stone towards an improved reputation. The Council's focus at the moment is on promoting the importance of dog dosing and in particular the benefits it has for fish and game enthusiasts.

To maintain a healthy relationship between landowners and the public, dog owners must ensure that their dogs will not endanger the land they utilise and in return, landowners will be more than willing to make rivers, lakes and hunting grounds accessible to the public and in particular their four-legged friends.