Calves will be missing for a second consecutive year from Northland's biggest annual calf club event as cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis continues to impact New Zealand's farming community.
"We're continuing to take a cautious approach," Dean Adams, Whangarei Central Group Calf Club committee chairman says.
Calves typically make up more than half the 150 animals students from Whangārei district rural schools bring to the event.
But M. bovis has forced a change to that animal line-up, with calves again off the agenda at this year's November event — for only the second time in its more than 100 years.
More than a century of tradition was broken in 2018 when calves were not included in the annual Whangarei Central Group Calf Club event as a precautionary approach after the bacterial disease arrived in New Zealand.
"Mycoplasma bovis is bringing new challenges for this long-established tradition," Adams said.
The Whangarei Central Group Calf Club's showcase event annually attracts hundreds of animals, students and supporters continuing a 107-year-old tradition first started in 1912
The Ministry for Primary Industries recently sent teacher/organiser information to 80 Northland schools about how to take extra biosecurity measures to hold a safe calf club event, should they wish to, with M. bovis.
But Adams said the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club committee had, at a July 1 meeting, decided to not have calves at its annual Barge Park event for a second year running.
This move is supported by schools which participate in the event — they too will again not include calves in their respective school ag days.
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Adams said the consequences of cattle being found to have M. bovis — which could be several years down the track — and have attended the event were too great.
Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that can cause a range of serious conditions in cattle.
The Ministry for Primary Industries says it has been in New Zealand from late 2015.
About 300 people attend the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club event each year. Calves had been part of the Whangārei event for 105 years.
The calves, predominantly dairy, made up over half the animal numbers exhibited at the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club event when it last included these young cattle in 2017.
Their absence for the first time in 2018 saw the total number exhibited drop by more than 30 per cent when they were not included in the line-up.
Almost 150 young farm animals were exhibited at the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club event in 2017, that number dropping to 99 animals physically on the site last year. (A new, virtual event participation category was introduced last year for those still wanting their calves to be part of the mix. This attracted three entries.)
Lamb numbers went up.
"But it's not easy to find lambs around Whangārei and they're expensive, $140 each," Adams said.
Children between the ages of 5 and 13 can take part in the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club, each exhibiting a single animal that must have been born from July 1 onwards.
Being unable to take calves to the event is disappointing families — parents and children alike.
The Duffy children from Maungatapere, Holly, 7, Daisy, 10, and Lily, 11, have grown up taking calves to the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club event, starting there as 5-year-olds.
But they won't be doing that this year. Their parents are still encouraging them to have a pet calf but their interest has waned without the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club participation goal to also work towards.
The change has broken three generations of Duffy family calf club tradition.
Parents Loren and Elvan milk 360 cows on their Maungatapere farm, 200 calving in
autumn, 160 calving in spring.
Loren supports M. bovis eradication in New Zealand and accepts the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club not allowing calves to the event again this year.
"Mycoplasma bovis is still very unknown, we just don't want to take the risk," Loren said. "It's our livelihood."
M. bovis is also impacting annual ag days held at the Whangārei district rural schools which each year support the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club's interschool competition.
Show must go on
Michelle Ruddell, Maungatapere School ag day organiser, said none of these schools — including Maungatapere — would be having calves at their ag days this year.
Ruddell has this year taken on the role of organising the Maungatapere School ag day in the wake of calves not being on the agenda.
"I want to make sure the event continues. It's important for keeping that rural feel to the school alive," Ruddell said.
Her three daughters have shown calves annually in the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club since they each started school, first showing them at Maungatapere School's ag days.
"Our girls are really disappointed because they love taking their pet calves to Whangarei Central Group Calf Club and working with them in the calf sheds," Ruddell said.
She supports the move not to have calves and of eradicating M. bovis.
Ruddell and her husband Tory milk 310 cows on their farm, not far from Maungatapere School.
Her two oldest daughters, Nicole and Tayla, will not attend the Whangarei group event this year because they can't take their calves.
But youngest daughter Ashley, 7, has decided to still attend, this year taking a lamb instead. Ashley went to the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club for the first time as a 5-year-old in 2017, taking her calf Pink.
Ruddell is looking forward to calves being able to once again return to calf clubs.
"We're hoping for calves to be included in school ag days again next year."
She is also hoping for their return to the Whangarei Central Group Calf Club soon after.
Ruddell is passionate about the events and their importance for rural communities and wants children to be encouraged to continue with their participation.
"Don't give up on caring for your animals. Keep at it. Calves will come back," she said.
Maungatapere School's families have until the end of August to register their children's pets for the 2019 ag day at the school. The school's 300 students all take part in the event.