9 Jul 2014

Genetics used to combat facial eczema

10:41 am on 9 July 2014

Dairy farmers battling the devastating livestock disease facial eczema are getting help from scientists and a cattle breeding company.

Facial eczema is a fungal disease spread from spores in pasture. It can kill livestock and is estimated to cost dairy farmers about $160 million a year in lost milk production.

AgResearch and CRV Ambreed, with the backing of DairyNZ, are taking a genetics approach by breeding dairy cattle that are more resistant to the disease.

Ambreed's genetic development strategist Phil Beatson said facial eczema tolerance in stock could be inherited.

"Through AgResearch analysing their database, which goes back about 25 years of recording facial eczema genetics, and then adding our own information that we've collected from our bulls that we test, we can identify which of those bulls are more likely to be leaving tolerant cows."

"So for the last four years we have released teams of friesian bulls and jersey bulls that we expect will leave cows that are more tolerant to a facial eczema challenge than the average bull that's available to New Zealand farmers," said Mr Beatson.

The sheep industry has shown it's possible to significantly reduce the incidence of the disease through a long-term breeding programme.