Warmer weather heats up facial eczema risk

While most of the population welcomes the warmer weather, it poses a potential problem for farmers. As humidity rises, so does the risk of facial eczema which can significantly impact on milk production and animal health.

The disease can hit dairy and beef cattle, sheep, deer and goats, damaging the liver, affecting bile ducts and causing sensitivity to sunlight. For dairy cows, even the early stages can result in a drop in milk production.

DairyNZ recommends starting zinc treatment two to three weeks before the spore growth danger period for maximum protection.

Fungal spores growing in pasture – especially fresh, new grass, are the root cause and spore counts increase where grass temperatures are above 12 degrees for three consecutive nights. Counts can vary from farm to farm and even between paddocks.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Agro-Science team member Jackie Aveling, speaking on behalf of animal nutrition subsidiary SealesWinslow, says with a reduced dairy payout, farmers should be especially alert and adopt a prevention approach to protect production of valuable milk solids.

“It’s a sad fact that often ideal grass growth conditions, such as warm wet weather are also ideal for facial eczema spores. It is not always easy to detect facial eczema in its early stages.

“Often farmers are unaware of the full extent of a facial eczema problem until it’s too late. For every three in a hundred cows showing clinical signs of facial eczema, that can be the tip of the iceberg with subclinical cases potentially involved up to 70 percent of the herd. We know the disease can cause production losses of up to 50 percent, so we are recommending a preventive strategy as the best course of action.”

Zinc treatment from late December through to May is commonly used to help prevent facial eczema. A popular option is dosing troughs with zinc sulphate, however this doesn’t always deliver the best results since the bitter taste can put the herd off the water. This has been addressed with Zincmax+. 

“Its peppermint taste makes it palatable and it includes organic copper. The taste helps ensure herds keep up their water consumption, which is important given their needs can exceed 100 litres at this time of year,” says Aveling.

The organic copper helps offset zinc’s antagonistic affect which reduces the absorption of this important trace element. Copper is important for production, immune response and also cycling ahead of breeding. Low copper levels can also affect growth and fertility in heifers.

Zincmax+ is a registered facial eczema treatment with Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM). 

Farmers interested in finding out more can contact their local SealesWinslow representative on 0800 287 325 or visit their local rural merchant store.

Facial eczema symptoms

The first sign of FE is a drop in milk production occurring soon after the intake of toxic spores (subclinical FE). Cows are restless at milking time, seek shade, and lick their udder.

Another drop in production occurs when physical symptoms (clinical FE) become obvious. Check unpigmented or thin skin which thickens and peels because of sun sensitivity.

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