The Bega Valley now recognises that facial eczema (FE) can have significant impacts on dairy cattle productivity, health and welfare.
It is a disorder mainly of cattle and sheep. While FE is most commonly recognized as a form of photosensitization – or sunburn – it is actually a disease of the liver caused by a fungal toxin found mainly on perennial ryegrass at the base of the pasture sward.
It can also live in a build-up of dead leaf litter of any pasture type, for example where pastures have been topped.
Last year Local Land Services (LLS), in partnership with local producers, collected data from pastures and affected cattle confirming outbreaks of FE and captured the attention of Dairy Australia (DA) who has incorporated Bega Valley into its Facial Eczema Spore Monitoring Program.
Regular monitoring of spore counts in a selection of paddocks is essential. DA funding has allowed LLS to engage sentinel farms in the region that will submit pasture samples to the Bega Veterinary Hospital every one to two weeks.
Spore counting to monitor the situation will last from January through to April, as this is the typical period during which outbreaks of FE occur.
The risk of FE increases when pasture spore counts are trending upwards of 20,000 spores per gram of pasture, minimum nighttime temperatures are over 12-15 degrees Celsius and the humidity is greater than 90 per cent for a few days.
Given that spore counts can vary dramatically among districts, farms and even among paddocks on the same farm, producers will be advised to submit their own pasture samples.
Management and prevention strategies include the use of zinc oxide in feed for dairy cattle, and minimising the exposure of stock to toxic levels of the spores by not grazing too hard.
Early intervention is critical. If you start seeing clinical cases of FE it may be too late to start taking preventative measures because the liver damage that causes this has occurred some 10 to 14 days earlier.
The results of the spore counting can been seen at www.dairyaustralia.com.au/facialeczema.