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Facial eczema tolerant genetics “essential tool"

7 May 2015

Facial eczema tolerant genetics “essential tool for the dairy farming toolbox”

A well-known and respected dairy farmer, who was one of the first in New Zealand to introduce facial eczema (FE) tolerant genetics into his dairy herd, says they are an “essential tool for the dairy farming toolbox”.

Managing director of Sisam and Sons Ltd in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, Richard Sisam, has spoken out in support of these genetics, following an especially bad season for FE across New Zealand.

This season is the fourth year Sisam & Sons have used CRV Ambreed’s FE tolerant genetics their four herds and replacement heifers.

“We now have over 1,700 heifers over two generations from this programme showing a degree of tolerance to facial eczema.

“FE tolerant genetics allow New Zealand dairy farmers to produce herds less susceptible to FE in the long-term. I consider these genetics to be an essential tool in the dairy farming toolbox.”

Richard’s initial faith in FE tolerant genetics came from his many years of success using FE tolerant genetics for sheep.

“Back in the 1980s, when we farmed over 12,000 ewes, we would lose over 1000 sheep in a bad FE season. Rams were sourced from the Wairarapa where FE was almost unknown and sheep had no natural tolerance to FE.

“We introduced FE tolerant genetics, and now, farming 5,500 ewes and in a moderate FE challenged season, the most we lose is 50 lambs and have very few ewes showing signs of clinical FE. We don’t have the intense and immediate loss we used to have.

“Always at the back of my mind was ‘if you can do it with sheep, surely you can do it with cows’. So when CRV Ambreed offered the product, I supported it 100 percent.”

Sisam said although it’s too early to see the results fully yet, he has full faith in these genetics.

“It’s based on science. It’s wise to have FE tolerant genetics in the background, working alongside other preventative measures,” he said.

FE is a disease that causes lowered milk production and even death from liver damage. Humid conditions increase the number of toxic spores in pastures, which when ingested by cattle, damages the liver and bile ducts.

The damaged liver cannot rid the animal’s body of wastes and a breakdown product of chlorophyll builds up in the body causing sensitivity to sunlight, which in turn causes inflammation of the skin.

Clinical cases of FE are easy to spot; skin loss and lethargy are clear signs that the animal is suffering from an FE challenge. However, subclinical symptoms, which are not noticeable, cost more to the dairy industry through the loss of milk production.

Research and development completed over the past four years by CRV Ambreed and its research partners resulted in the ability to identify FE tolerant bulls.

Targeted genetics for dairy cattle are now available that will typically breed off-spring that are 25% less reactive to a facial eczema challenge, compared to the average bull, helping farmers beat facial eczema long-term.

CRV Ambreed currently has Jersey, Friesian and Crossbred bull teams available and once again, will be identifying the very latest FE tolerant sires from its 2015 progeny test bulls to breed cows with a degree of resistance and more resilience to a facial eczema challenge than the progeny of the average bull.

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