Microplasma Bovis: a closed herd approach

Dairy, Sheep & Beef

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Microplasma Bovis still dominates the industry’s thoughts as we try to come to grips with how to avoid the spread of the disease.

AgFirst are urging our farmers and industry to take control, at least by taking ownership of tracking and tracing cattle, through NAIT.

We’ve been encouraging farmers to forge stronger relationships, and we have actively been promoting more formal interaction between dairy and beef farmers to develop closed herds as follows:

  • The beef farmer exclusively grazes the dairy farmer’s replacement heifers
  • The dairy farmer uses dairy AI for his replacements and then uses beef AI for the beef farmer’s finishing replacements
  • The beef farmer supplies beef semen to the dairy farmer with high genetic merit:
    • 4-5 days shorter gestation and easy calving for the dairy farmer
    • Good growth and carcass characteristics for beef finishing
  • The beef farmer agrees to exclusively purchase all the resultant dairy-beef calves from the dairy farmer who chooses to sell at 4-5 days of age and/or weaned at say 100kgLW.

We have found the biggest hurdle with stitching these sorts of deals together is the reluctance from dairy farmers to use AI for the whole season and not just some of the season. In response all we can say is that, while currently there is more work and attention to detail required for AI, there are also rewards: less direct cost; less risk with ‘shonky’ beef bulls; and less risk from being exposed to M.Bovis. Another major bonus is the bobby calves are reared and not slaughtered.

In the absence of formal contracts with dairy farmers we again want to encourage you to consider contract purchasing your dairy-beef replacement calves from professional calf-rearers. Some of these businesses have taken extraordinary measures to ensure, as best they can, that the calves they rear are ‘safe’. By making the decision to contract purchase your beef replacements you will ensure you have purchased your calves at a fair and reasonable price and also avoid getting involved in the inevitable price hike when demand exceeds supply.

Please also be aware that purchasing South Island cattle, whilst often cheaper, can also be risky as some of our clients have discovered. It could be argued that South Island cattle pose a higher risk with M.Bovis but there’s another reason to consider: when purchasing cattle from areas where cattle ticks are not present predisposes these naïve calves to Theileria on farms where ticks maybe present. The Theileria affected calves have reduced live weight gain and many may die. We suggest you talk with your veterinarian about the risks of purchasing calves from outside your region.

Finally, we fully understand that if you don’t continue to buy and sell cattle it will likely be hard to make money.

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