Collaboration between CRV Ambreed, an artificial breeding company, and AgResearch under the auspices of the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) is helping to reduce the impact of facial eczema in dairy cattle by developing genetics that make cows more tolerant to the disease.
CRV Ambreed’s genetic development strategist, Phil Beatson, in a media statement yesterday said dairy farmers know that facial eczema can be incredibly stressful for cattle, and an economic risk to their businesses through lowered milk production, weight loss and death of stock.
“For every three in 100 cows with clinical FE, it is estimated up to 70 per cent of the herd may have sub-clinical symptoms. You won’t necessarily see the disease in cows with sub-clinical symptoms, but it will be damaging the liver and lowering milk production,” said Mr Beatson.
“Because many sub-clinical animals go undiagnosed and untreated, it is hard to quantify the economic impact of FE on the dairy industry – but conservative estimates in lost milk production are around $160M per year, depending on outbreaks and weather.”
He said the good news is that FE resistance in dairy cattle is a heritable trait.
“The sheep industry has proven that if you develop a long-term breeding programme you can significantly reduce the occurrence of the devastating disease.
“We’ve seen how sheep farmers have taken control and addressed the disease well, but in the dairy industry it hasn’t received the same degree of attention until now.”
DairyNZ’s strategic investment leader for productivity, Dr Bruce Thorrold, said the dairy industry is very supportive of the research being done.
“A key objective of the PGP programme is to use transforming technologies and information flows to help dairy farmers to sustainably improve dairy farm productivity through on-farm innovation and research,” said Dr Thorrold.
The work is being funded by CRV, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (formally Meat & Wool New Zealand), DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries as part of the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain PGP programme.
“Because FE is an issue for the industry, we have all invested in the science behind more tolerant bulls to provide dairy farmers with another option for FE management. Bull testing is available to all the industry now, and it’s good to see the science being commercialised by CRV,” said Dr Thorrold.
AgResearch scientist Dr Chris Morris and Neil Cullen have been leading the project alongside Beatson.
“Our work with CRV Ambreed over the past 10 years has resulted in a bull team which will sire cows with a degree of resistance and more resilience to a FE challenge than cows from the average bull. These bulls have been evaluated for FE tolerance, so dairy farmers can take a long-term view to developing herds resilient to a FE challenge,” said Mr Cullen.
Beatson said the research has been particularly intensive over the past four years to establish bull teams which in one round of use are predicted to breed the next generation of cows 25 per cent less reactive to a challenge from FE.
“We will never completely eradicate FE or have animals that are 100 per cent resistant. Animals will continue to react to FE, but we can reduce the severity of that reaction and potentially save the industry millions of dollars through lost milk production and cow wastage,” said Mr Beatson.