Nelson recently hosted the South Island's first Facial Eczema (FE) workshop, drawing around 40 participants.
The Facing Up to Facial Eczema workshop, organised by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), received overwhelmingly positive feedback, marking a pivotal moment in addressing FE-related challenges in the South Island.
One farmer who attended, praised the event as the "best B+LNZ event they had ever attended."
B+LNZ’s Northern South Island Extension Manager, Kristin Kirkpatrick, who organised the event noticed in February that farmers from parts of the region who hadn’t traditional been affected by FE were now aware of it and beginning to take spore counts on farm.
“As the year has progressed, I have heard from more and more farmers that believed they were seeing signs in stock, but it was very much a new animal health risk for them.”
The workshop was collaboratively designed by farmers, extension professionals, subject matter experts, and researchers. It comprehensively addressed the causes, signs, and symptoms of FE, providing farmers with tools to effectively mitigate its effects.
The day included a range of speakers including vets, scientists, and farmers who covered crucial aspects of the disease.
Kirkpatrick explains, "We invested time in ensuring that the workshop catered to the specific needs of Tasman farmers, placing a significant emphasis on the fundamentals of FE.
“We were very careful in the workshop design to ensure maximum interaction and engagement with farmer voices at the forefront through our panel of Peter Moore, Claire Parkes, Sean McNamara and Mary Bowron, as well as attendees during the day."
“Farmers learn best from other farmers and sharing experiences is really important,” says Kirkpatrick.
“I was absolutely thrilled with the day. The energy was high, it was practical and applicable to all farm systems and the postmortems were the icing on the cake.
“I am looking to do more in this space because it needs to be talked about but also ensure a workshop relates to each region's needs. For Buller, we are playing with the idea of a Cattle-focused FE workshop, Marlborough and North Canterbury a very similar design to the Tasman workshop," says Kristin Kirkpatrick.
FE prevalence growing in the South Island
FE, a production-limiting and potentially fatal ailment affecting both sheep and cattle, has traditionally been linked to warmer and wetter regions of the North Island. However, recent identifications in Northern South Island areas suggest the disease is spreading, prompting concerns about its potential impact under a changing climate.
Will Halliday, B+LNZ's Senior Advisor Animal Welfare and Biosecurity, emphasized that as FE is expected to become more widespread and track further south, farmers need to adopt proactive management strategies.
The disease, caused by spores of a fungus containing a liver-attacking toxin, can result in substantial production losses, even without visible symptoms. Halliday encouraged farmers in at-risk Northern South Island regions to consider FE management tools, such as selecting ram breeds with FE-tolerant genetics to future-proof their flocks.
For more information about Facial Eczema, read our Facing up tp Facial Eczema handbook (PDF, 3.9MB).