Looking out for Facial Eczema

// Pests and Diseases

Warm summer temperatures and high humidity create the perfect conditions for Facial Eczema and Beef + Lamb New Zealand is urging farmers to be vigilant.

Healthy sheep

The organisation has started publishing weekly spore counts in its weekly e-diaries and will be launching a regional text service in the near future to alert farmers of high spore counts.

Will Halliday, B+LNZ’s Senior Advisor for Biosecurity and Animal Welfare recommends that farmers in high-risk regions undertake weekly monitoring of their own property and when spore counts start to rise, put management strategies in place to prevent stock being affected by this production-limiting disease.

These strategies could include avoiding hard grazing, feeding “clean” forage crops such as chicory or plantain, dosing sheep and cattle with zinc oxide boluses or drenches, or adding zinc oxide to cattle water troughs. 

Will says Facial Eczema (FE) is caused by the spores of the fungus Pithomyces chartarum (which grows on litter at the base of pasture) and affects more than just an animal’s face. The spores release a toxin which can damage the liver resulting in photosensitivity and sunburn which are the clinical signs of the disease.

The fungus is ever-present, but when temperature and moisture levels are high, the fungus grows rapidly, releasing huge numbers of toxic spores.
When monitoring indicates rising spore counts, he urges farmers to keep a close eye on stock, looking out for signs of discomfort, photosensitivity and skin lesions.

“For every animal with clinical signs of FE – which are obvious skin lesions – there will be many more with sub-clinical disease, which is the invisible on-going liver damage that can cause major productivity losses including reduced liveweight gain especially at mating resulting in lower lambing and calving percentages.”

B+LNZ has a number of resources to help farmers understand and manage FE in both the short and long-term. In sheep, genetics (buying FE-tolerant rams) offers a long-term solution to limiting the impacts of this disease.

Facial Eczema resources