Whanganui dairy farmers suspected of harbouring the cattle disease M. bovis are seeking compensation.

Brendon Gardiner and Kim Houlahan says it has been a tough seven weeks after they became one of two Whanganui farms put under Notice of Direction (NoD) by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Their farm, on No 2 Line in Fordell, now has a clean bill of health, as does the other affected farm at Marangai. Both notices were revoked in June.

If the Houlahan's farm was found to be infected they stood to lose their entire herd of 360 cows, 160 heifers and 100 beef cattle.


"Everything could be gone. We like our cows. We work with them every day," Houlahan said.

At first they didn't tell anybody about the NoD.

"We didn't feel like we wanted to be out and about."

They got the first phonecall from MPI in mid-May, asking whether they had bought 65 weaner beef calves at the Feilding sales in 2014. Three of those calves were from a farm later found to have M. bovis - probably a South Island farm.

The calves were picked up through National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) records at meatworks.

By May 2018 all of those 65 had been fattened and sent to meatworks. But they might have spread the disease to heifers grazing in the next paddock.

MPI asked Asure Quality to blood test 100 of the farm's dairy cows. Tests came back negative, but they can be unreliable and the farm was put under a NoD.

After that any animals or machinery leaving the property needed a permit. The farm's house and driveway became a "clean zone". From the cowshed back was a "dirty zone".


Boots worn there had be washed and disinfected, and trucks carrying cattle from there had a two to three hour washdown afterward to disinfect them.

Another 100 cows were tested, as were 26 sent to meatworks. All the tests were negative.

The farmers finally told their neighbours about the NoD.

"The whole community was really supportive when they eventually found out," Houlahan said.

News the NoD had been revoked came in mid June, just before calving, and was a tremendous relief. They don't know what they would have done with the calves otherwise.

"We couldn't sell them, and we couldn't send bobby calves anywhere. We were going to have to shoot them all and chuck them down the offal hole," Gardiner said.

The two haven't been told why the NoD was revoked - possibly all the negative tests, possibly the length of time since they bought the suspect calves. They said dealing with MPI was "absolutely horrendous".

"They tell you nothing."

Their Asure Quality staff were better, and the farmers wanted to thank Bruce Smith and Ron Meynell.

"There was nothing too hard for them," Houlahan said.

Federated Farmers and the Ruapehu-Wanganui Rural Support Trust have also been supportive, and the farmers were given a care package put together by St Mary's School.

Gardiner and Houlahan intend to apply for compensation through NoD, for abnormal costs imposed by the NoD. They say there needs to be more information about M. bovis.

"No one knows enough about it."