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What lies beneath the surface? The pitfalls of facial eczema

By Julie Roberts, Ravensdown Animal Health Area Manager Western North Island

Do you rely on visual cues to assess your stock’s health? Making animal health plans or decisions on this alone can be detrimental to your production when it comes to facial eczema. What lies beneath the surface can tell a very different story that doesn’t always present as the known physical ailments of the disease.

I don’t need to tell you facial eczema is a serious condition that costs an enormous amount of money each year through lost production and deaths. What I do need to tell you though is that the data can tell a very different story than the physical presentation of your stock. Without adequate prevention methods, such as enough zinc, facial eczema spores can cause irreversible liver damage and production decreases of around 8%.

For every animal showing clinical signs of facial eczema there will likely be another 10 with sub-clinical liver damage to which there is no cure. Prevention is largely reliant on long-term planning, monitoring and prevention, which goes as follows:


Long-term planning may involve selective breeding for facial eczema tolerance, crops or safe forages to be grazed at high-risk times, avoiding topping or leaving high residuals in paddocks which are known to be hot spots (warm and sheltered).


Monitoring involves measuring the spores in your pasture with regular herbage or faecal spore counts. A suitable fungicide can be applied when the spore counts start to increase above 10,000spg. This will keep the pasture at safe levels for up to 40 days.


Prevention involves spraying Carbendazim (Sporeguard) onto pasture to stop animals ingesting spores, administering zinc through a bolus, drenching, in feed or through the drinking water to neutralise the effects of the toxic spores in pasture. It is important that each animal is receiving a full rate of zinc to achieve this, which can be checked by a blood serum test.

Because every season and farm has climatic differences, the solution for this disease is not straight-forward. There will be variability within farms and paddocks as well, so make sure you’re getting good support and advice on how best to prevent it.

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