One of the country's larger calf rearers has invested around $80,000 in a pasteurisation unit to protect his business from Mycoplasma bovis.
Mark and Michelle Bocock rear around 4500 calves each year, all of which originate from dairy farms, and with milk recognised as one of the "biggest risks to spreading the disease" Mark Bocock said they had no option but to invest in the new unit.
"Some rearers I've talked to won't be rearing calves this year because it's simply too difficult in this Mycoplasma bovis environment - having to keep mobs separate and the added cost of feeding milk powder from day one because you can no longer, safely, feed raw farm milk."
Bocock admits he has had to rethink every aspect of his business.
"We will only be buying from known herds that we have dealt with for a long period of time and won't buy any stock from sale yards. All our farmers have really high levels of biosecurity and are effectively closed farms with few stock movements on and off but we will also be seeking reassurance about any test results for the farm and/or whether the farm has been subject to Mycoplasma bovis tracing by MPI.
"We pick up and transport all calves, each mob kept separate for a period of time so we can observe and have confidence in their health status before they join larger mobs."
The Bocock purpose-built calf transporter will undergo additional strenuous cleaning before and after each calf pick-up "It's as much about protecting our business as it is that of our farmer's. They need to know we're not going to compromise their biosecurity."
The majority of the 4500 calves reared at the Bocock operation near Te Awamutu are Friesian bulls, with the balance white-faced dairy/beef calves. All are reared to 100kg and then on-sold to finishers. NAIT compliance is strictly adhered to – both with bought and sold animals – Mark and Michelle Bocock doing all the transfers so they (and their farmers) "know it's been done".
The rearing operation feeds a mix of farm milk and milk powder. Starting this spring, raw milk will go through the new pasteurisation unit before it is stored in two new 20,000 stainless steel vats and fed to the calves.
"Milk is the biggest risk of transmitting Mycoplasma bovis; it only takes one cow in a herd to shed the organism to contaminate an entire vat of milk. If you fed that to calves, it would effectively pass on the organism.
"We traditionally pick up farm milk in our own truck in the early days of calving – before the farm has built up sufficient volumes for the tanker to call – and, should any contain Mycoplasma Bovis it will be killed by the pasteurisation process."
Michelle Bocock has developed a comprehensive overview of the farm's biosecurity standards – for the rearing operation and what they expect and need from their farmer clients. The protocols apply to the farm and shed, personnel, visitors and contractors, purchase, transport and sale of stock and milk collection.
"All our boundary fences are being secured to prevent nose-to-nose contact with neighbouring stock and no-one can enter the calf sheds unless authorised by management – and even then they need to walk through a foot bath with spare boots and clothes available as required."
Despite the significant investment and additional work, Mark (who is a member of the Beef+Lamb Dairy Beef Integration Project) remains optimistic about the dairy industry as the source for quality table beef.
"The dairy industry is the engine room for the country's beef industry and, over recent years, more farmers have bred the balance of the herd – after replacements – to proven beef sires to produce calves in demand by rearers and, ultimately, finishers and processors.
"My advice to farmers is to continue to realise the potential to increase their calf cheque, by breeding the balance of the herd to quality proven beef genetics. DairyNZ and MPI have developed some clear, informative advisories which will guide you through calf rearing and mating to keep you farm safe.
"Overall, when selling this year's calves, ensure the people who are coming onto the farm to collect them understand and meet your biosecurity standards. And when it comes to mating for next year's calves, ensure that any run bulls come with an assurance from the breeder or leaser that they are free of Mycoplasma bovis," Mark Bocock said.