Planning has started for a major logistical exercise required to cull about 4000 dairy cattle in the Waimate district.

The decision to slaughter the cattle on five Van Leeuwen Dairy Group properties was made as the Ministry for Primary Industries MPI) moved to contain the bacterial disease Mycoplasma bovis. MPI director of response Geoff Gwyn said yesterday the cull was not something that would "start tomorrow". Rather, it was a big logistical exercise that needed to be thoroughly planned and co-ordinated.

It was expected removal of the animals would start after consultation with affected parties and most would be sent for slaughter.

The disease was confirmed for the first time in New Zealand on two Van Leeuwen Dairy Group properties in late July. Since then, three other VLDG properties have tested positive, along with a farm in the Oamaru area and a lifestyle property in North Canterbury.

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Despite tens of thousands of tests undertaken since the disease was detected, the only positive results had been on those seven properties. That led MPI to be "cautiously optimistic" it was dealing with a very localised area of infection around Oamaru, Mr Gwyn said in a statement.

To prevent further spread, about 4000 cattle needed to be culled and the properties decontaminated before the farms were repopulated.

A small number of animals had already been culled on the farm in the Oamaru area and the North Canterbury property and no cattle remained on those properties.

All premises, transportation vehicles and equipment involved in culling would follow a strict decontamination and disinfection protocol to mitigate the risk of spreading the disease.

Once the cattle were removed, there would be at least a 60-day stand-down period when no cattle would be permitted on the farms. During that time, the properties would be cleaned and disinfected. Following that, the aim was to get cattle back on the farms as quickly as possible and surveillance, monitoring and testing would remain in place as a further safeguard.

The affected farmers could apply for compensation for verifiable losses relating to MPI exercising legal powers under the Biosecurity Act.

Van Leeuwen Dairy Group is a high-profile operation founded by Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen and includes the world's largest robotic dairy barn.

Mr van Leeuwen could not be contacted yesterday.Mr Gwyn said MPI would work closely with animal industry bodies, the Rural Support Trust and others to support the affected farmers.

Federated Farmers supports the cull - national president Katie Milne said it was the only option which would ensure peace of mind for the rest of New Zealand's dairy and beef farmers.

"This is a disease that we definitely don't want and we should seek to eradicate it, if feasible," Ms Milne said.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Williamson said the decision showed MPI was taking positive action.