A Northland veterinarian helping a beef farmer deal with Mycoplasma bovis is warning farmers about the dangers of buying friesian bulls from outside the region.

Dargaville Veterinary Centre manager Brian Lowe said there were truck-and-trailer loads of friesian bulls from high risk areas such as Canterbury heading to Northland which placed the community at risk.

Lowe revealed at a public meeting organised by the Ministry of Primary Industries yesterday the only farm tested positive for M. bovis was just east of Dargaville but no other farms were at risk.

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However, he said there would be risk if local farmers continued to buy animals cheaper from other regions using stock agents from those areas.

The first confirmed case of M. bovis was found just east of Dargaville on a dry stock farm with about 50 friesian bulls that were born in Canterbury but bought from Waikato around April this year.

An M. bovis information meeting organised by the Ministry for Primary Industries, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, Dairy NZ and the Rural Support Trust at Dargaville's Northern Wairoa Hall.

About 130 farmers present at the meeting were given information about the disease before a question and answer session.

Dr Kelly Buckle MPI vetinary pathologist MPI calls public meeting to discuss microplasma bovis in Dargaville 06 September 2018 Northern Advocate photograph by John Stone
Dr Kelly Buckle MPI vetinary pathologist MPI calls public meeting to discuss microplasma bovis in Dargaville 06 September 2018 Northern Advocate photograph by John Stone

Lowe said some of the animals on the infected farm suffered from theileria - a tick-borne disease caused by an intracellular blood parasite. Normally cows in Northland can recover relatively easily from the disease, but when the animals did not get better Dargaville Vets were contacted.

An inspection of the name tags and their movement, he said, revealed the animals had come to Waikato from Canterbury where 32 farms are infected with M. bovis — the highest in New Zealand.

A small number of the animals were euthanised and samples taken from the animals' throats, and M. bovis was confirmed last week.

The Northland farmer whose property is infected has ensured no animal has come into contact on the boundary with other farms and that there was strict biosecurity even before the disease was discovered, Lowe said.

"There are truck-and-trailer units of friesian bulls coming north so there are a number of farms in the Dargaville area that have knowingly purchased friesian bulls from outside the area.

"One beef farmer told me that it's between $50 and $100 per head cheaper to buy friesian bulls from Canterbury than it is to buy local. So that particular farmer preferred to save money and accept the risk. That's a huge risk and that places the community under risk."

Brian Lowe of Dargaville Vets is warning Northland farmers from buying friesian bulls from outside the region. Photo/John Stone
Brian Lowe of Dargaville Vets is warning Northland farmers from buying friesian bulls from outside the region. Photo/John Stone

Lowe is advising Northland farmers to buy friesian bulls locally.

"There are very good calf rearers locally. They buy from good dairy farms, they know the local dairy farms are clear of mycoplasma because they get milk tested.

"They buy the friesian bulls from local dairy farms, they raise them, then sell them to locals so there's a definite chain from where the calf was born right through to when it's sold then sent to slaughter," he said.

There was no local stock agent he knows of that would promote the movement of friesian stock from outside the area into Northland.

A number of farmers at yesterday's meeting questioned why MPI was not doing enough to stop "rogue" stock agents from moving cattle around to bypass the ministry's M. bovis controls.

MPI vet pathologist Dr Kelly Buckle said the ministry was working with stock agents as much as it could and explained most of the farms south of Northland were free of M. bovis.

She said the focus should be on infected farms, not regions.

Mike Colthurst from Whangarei said Federated Farmers should report rogue agents from outside Northland to MPI because of livestock being sold to farmers up here.