Farmers across New Zealand are being called upon to assist in a groundbreaking research project focused on facial eczema. Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) is spearheading the three-year study, which aims to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of the disease in the country. Additionally, the research will investigate whether a warming climate is having an impact on the distribution of the disease. B+LNZ is seeking the participation of 350 enthusiastic farmers, with 22 from each of the country’s 16 regions. These farmers will be responsible for collecting sheep droppings for sampling purposes from October to May each year for the duration of the study.
Facial eczema is a condition associated with a toxin-producing fungus that affects livestock grazing on pasture. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for the disease. The toxin can cause permanent liver damage, leading to photosensitivity and sunburn in animals. Even if the animal survives, its productivity will be permanently limited. According to B+LNZ’s Economic Service, the annual cost of facial eczema to the New Zealand sheep, beef, dairy, and deer sectors is estimated to be around NZ$332 million (€181 million).
Farmers who choose to participate in the study will be required to collect samples from their sheep flock 16 times throughout each year of the study, approximately every two weeks. The process is relatively simple, as farmers will only need to walk through the paddock and gather 10 individual fresh samples from the ground. There is no need to corral the animals for this purpose. Once the laboratory testing is completed, B+LNZ will provide the farmers with a result of the faecal spore count. Furthermore, the participants will have access to a monthly updated map showcasing spore counts across the country.
Suzi Keeling, the sector science strategy manager at B+LNZ, emphasized the importance of farmer involvement in shaping future tools and solutions for facial eczema management. The research aims to collect samples from farms across New Zealand, regardless of whether they have previously experienced facial eczema. B+LNZ will provide the necessary instructions, sampling kits, and cover the costs of couriering the samples to the laboratory.
The study presents a unique opportunity for farmers to contribute to the understanding and management of facial eczema in New Zealand. By collecting and providing samples, farmers will play an integral role in the development of effective solutions for combating this costly disease. B+LNZ’s initiative highlights the importance of collaboration between industry professionals and researchers in addressing significant challenges within the agricultural sector.