The year for better facial eczema decisions
December 2022

Facial eczema (FE) is a disease of the liver not the skin. It causes incredible milk production loss and welfare challenges, most of the time without farmers even realising. It's time to break the cycle and do it better.

FE is a disease caused by a fungus that produces toxic spores depending on the weather conditions. Gone are the days of thinking this disease starts in February and is finished in April. We need to start thinking that animals may be eating these toxic spores as early as November to as late as June! Fully preventing this disease is achievable but unfortunately, even in an average year, about one- third of farms have cattle suffering liver damage. In a high challenge year, this will be closer to 80%.

So how can we better manage this disease?

In a nutshell, you need to base your decisions on information from your farm. Not your neighbours’, brother’s, friends’, family’s farm. YOUR FARM!

1. Starting and stopping your management

Regardless of what management you do to prevent FE, you should base the decision to start or stop on spore counts from your farm. Spore counts from anywhere but your own farm are too variable to make decisions from. Therefore, this season Vetora will be stopping communication of where the monitor farms are located.

To gather spore information for your farm; choose 4 representative paddocks and spore count them weekly until you start your management. You can stop spore counting once your management is in place. When you want to stop you FE management make sure your counts are at 0 spores/g pasture for three consecutive weeks on your farm.

2. Monitoring your management

Regardless of which management you choose for preventing FE, you need to monitor it to see if it is working. More than 60% of farms don’t provide enough zinc to protect against the toxin in the spores and many farmers will spray with a fungicide without spore counting first, so it is not working. What a waste of time and money!

Once you are providing full dose rates of zinc (which you should be doing no matter what the spore count), for a week then you can either:

a. Get your bulk milk zinc tested for free (if you are a Fonterra client)
b. Get 15 cattle blood tested for zinc concentration

This will give you the information you need to determine if what you are doing is going to work.

Before you fungicide spray, do spore counts. After you have sprayed, keep spore counting a selection of paddocks to collect information on whether the spray has worked as you anticipated.

If the results are not what you thought then it is time to involve your vet. This is what they are here for. Don’t feel alone, this is the case for the majority of farmers. But you can fix it!

Final words:

I have been involved with countless investigations and trials into facial eczema and spoken to thousands of farmers all over the country over my career and the constant reason for all FE breakdowns (known or unknown) is that farmers are guessing. Guessing when to start their zinc program, guessing when to bolus their heifers, guessing when to stop, guessing that their management is working. Break the cycle. This year is the year to base your decisions on information!