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1 March 1999
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reminding sheep and cattle owners that they have an obligation to try to prevent facial eczema in their stock.
Ross Burnell, MAF Enforcement Unit Senior Advisor, says they should also provide relief for affected animals in the form of shade. "Facial eczema can cause cruel suffering," says Mr Burnell. "It is a type of exaggerated sunburn. It can be very painful initially."
Facial eczema is a common disease occurring in much of New Zealand in summer and autumn. Stock are at risk as the summer/autumn period approaches. It is caused by a fungus in pasture. Fungal spores usually increase after a fall of rain, particularly when the grass temperature is at least 120C. When the grass temperature has been high, say 160 to 180C for two or more nights following rain, spore counts can rise dramatically. Toxins in fungal spores damage the liver releasing a substance in the blood which reacts with sunlight to damage exposed areas of skin.
Mr Burnell says that there are various ways of preventing the disease. The best way is to avoid pasture with high spore counts, and most farmers can identify areas of their farm which are safer when conditions are dangerous. North facing slopes, ridges and the lee of hedges tend to carry a higher risk.
"Another important means of prevention is giving zinc by mouth, and there are various effective preparations available including drenches, solutions to add to drinking water and rumen boluses," Mr Burnell says. "Care should be taken to use only licensed products to prevent adverse reactions and breaches of the Animal Remedies Act. There are currently no licensed injectable zinc products on the market.
"Spraying pasture with special fungicides is another option, but the most cost-effective means of prevention vary from farm to farm. Any animal owner who is uncertain about which option to choose must talk to an expert about it - a vet, or an experienced and competent farmer or farm advisor. Many veterinary practices offer practical and topical advice on prevention and control as part of their service to clients."
Mr Burnell points out that shade is very important to provide relief for affected animals and it helps prevent further damage from sunlight. "In fact it may be best to house stock in darkness during daylight hours when they are sensitive to sunlight."
Ross Burnell, MAF Enforcement Unit, 09-256 6423. Fax 09-256 6424.