The warm, wet conditions and high pasture growth currently being seen in the region favour growth of the fungus that can multiply in pasture and produce toxic spores. When grazed by cattle, these toxic spores cause liver damage, and in some animals, photosensitisation.
A series of information sessions for dairy farmer is being held by Dairy Australia across the region. Experts will provide the latest information on identification of periods of pasture toxicity, and effective and safe control and prevention of the condition.
Dairy Australia's Feed2Milk program leader Dr Steve Little said more than 20 “sentinel” farms across the region will be regularly monitored for pasture levels of the fungal spores which cause facial eczema. Local farmers will be able to keep track of developments in their area and be ready to act swiftly once spore levels are on the rise.
“This is the first time such a pasture spore monitoring program has been piloted in Australia,” Dr Little said. “We will have the results from the sentinel farms updated weekly on the Dairy Australia website, so farmers will be able to track exactly what is happening and make an informed choice as to the facial eczema strategy for their farm.”
Dr Little said the current humid conditions might be good for growing pasture, but were also suitable for growth of the fungus Pithomyces chartarum, which under special conditions could then produce toxic spores, which cows eat while grazing. Ryegrass pasture is the ideal environment for the fungus, because it produces lots of dead litter on which the fungus can thrive.
“Facial eczema is a serious issue for the dairy industry as it affects cow productivity, health and welfare. Farmers need to work closely with their stockfeed company, vet and nutrition adviser to ensure their zinc supplementation program is effective and safe.”
Sentinel farm pasture spore counts and general information of facial eczema will be available from www.dairyaustralia.com.au/facialeczema , commencing the third week of December.
Facial Eczema (FE) Facts· FE tends to be mainly associated with perennial rye grass because of its ability to produce large quantities of dead litter, which supports germination of the fungus.
· While germination can occur all year round, special weather conditions are needed for spores to be produced.
· The greatest concentrations of spores tend to be at the base of the pasture sward.
· FE is not a skin disease. The skin condition seen with FE is the result of the liver damage caused by the toxin, sporidesmin.
· It is very common to have a significant FE problem without animals showing skin problems.
· It is the 80 per cent of cows without skin lesions, with liver damage, that cause the major economic impact.
· FE doesn’t just occur on white skin. Even black cattle get FE (Every animal has a liver).
· Zinc can only help prevent FE. It cannot reverse liver damage already done by sporidesmin.