Michelle Simpson took over the mantle of Project Manager for the Ovis management programme in December 2021, replacing Dan Lynch, who has retired after heading the programme for 28 years.
Based in Halcombe in rural Manawatu, mother of two Michelle is married to a sheep and beef farmer and is also a volunteer firefighter.
“I saw this as an opportunity to focus on the biosecurity side of the primary industry, work directly with farmers and bring my experience in animal health to the role,” says Michelle.
She began her career in the Hawke’s Bay, having studied agriculture at school, while working on local farms and then going on to study laboratory science with a focus on microbiology and parasitology. Prior to Ovis, she was at Southern Rangitikei Veterinary Services where she was Department Manager for its large animal department.
The programme works to promote the control of C. ovis – or ‘sheep measles’- through communication and collaboration. Sheep measles poses no risk to human health but causes blemishes in sheep meat, which is undesirable for consumers and particularly for the export market. Sheep measles costs farmers a lot of money due to condemned stock.
C. ovis is caused by the Taenia ovis tapeworm. Dogs can become infected by eating untreated meat or offal, infected with live cysts, and then spread to sheep through tapeworm eggs in dog faeces left in grazing areas. Eggs can also be spread from dog faeces over large areas by wind or by flies.
All farm dogs should be treated monthly with cestocidal (tapeworm) drugs containing the ingredient Praziquantel – a cheap and effective treatment- to kill the tapeworm – or with a suitable product recommended by a vet or animal health advisor.
“An issue with Ovis is that if a farmer is not killing lambs, they may not know that they are passing the problem on. Then, when a farmer ends up with issues with their product, they don’t know who to turn to,” says Michelle.
“I see an important part of my role as helping those farmers to spread the word, that everyone has a part to play in protecting the sheep meat market.
“It is important to get the message out there that all dog owners who take their dogs near farmland, or where sheep graze, must dose their dogs every month. That is essential because the tapeworm has a short life cycle and dosing three-monthly is not enough to stop the parasite from spreading.
“Farmers and landowners can control who is coming onto their property with their dogs. It’s your land, your livelihood, and your rules and if a dog does not need to come onto the property, then it is best not to have it there.”
Michelle has also been working with urban vet clinics, as well as rural ones, to further raise awareness of the importance of dosing dogs before they go into rural areas.
“With COVID-19, more people are having New Zealand ‘staycations’ and may be doing more travelling into rural areas with their dogs or walking Department of Conservation tracks near grazing sheep.
“Most urban dog owners are unlikely to know about the risk of Ovis, so it’s about getting the message out that we all have a part to play.”