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Facial eczema management protocols used on dairy farms in the North Island of New Zealand and associated concentrations of zinc in serum

Authors: Stevenson MA, Laven RA, Mason WA, Cuttance EL
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 343-350, Nov 2016
Publisher: Taylor and Francis


AIMS: To describe and evaluate the current practices used to manage and prevent facial eczema (FE) in North Island dairy herds, and determine the within-herd prevalence of cows with elevated activities of gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and with concentrations of Zn in serum <18 μmol/L.

METHODS: Between January and May 2014, 105 herd managers from throughout the North Island of New Zealand were invited to participate in the study when regional spore counts for Pithomyces chartarum started to rise towards 30,000 spores/g pasture. Managers selected 10 representative cattle that were weighed and blood-sampled by the herd veterinarian. Blood samples were analysed for concentrations of Zn in serum and GGT activity. Pasture samples were also collected and submitted for spore count estimation. Finally a survey of farm management practices relating to prevention of FE was completed by the herd manager. A mixed-effects logistic regression model was used to determine associations between herd-level and cow-level explanatory variables and the probability of a cow having a concentration of Zn in serum <18 µmol/L.

RESULTS: Of the 1,071 cows tested, 79 (7.3 (95% CI=5.8–9.0)%) had GGT activity in serum >300 IU/L, and 35/106 (33 (95% CI=24.2–42.8)%) herds had ≥1 of the 10 cows sampled with GGT activity >300 IU/L. Of the 911 cows that were being treated with Zn, concentrations of Zn were between 18–35 μmol/L in 398 (43.6 (95% CI=40.4–46.9)%) cows, were >35 μmol/L in 32 (3.5 (95% CI=2.4–4.1)%) cows, and <18 μmol/L in 479 (52.6 (95% CI=49.3–55.9)%) cows. After adjusting for the confounding effect of region, the odds of a cow having concentrations of Zn in serum <18 μmol/L were 5.5 (95% CI=1.1–29) times greater for cows supplemented with zinc in water compared with those supplemented by drenching. Of the 105 herd managers, 103 (98%) stated that they had access to regional spore count data, but only 35/105 (33%) reported that they measured spore counts on their own farm. Overall, 98/105 (93%) managers reported that they had some form of FE management programme in place. Fungicides were used on their own or in combination with zinc treatments in 10 herds, ZnSO4 in water troughs was used in 68 herds, oral drenching with ZnO in nine herds, and ZnO supplied in-feed in 26 herds. Estimated daily dose rates of zinc were less than that required to treat a 400 kg cow on 42/68 farms that administered ZnSO4 in the water or ZnO as a drench.

CONCLUSION AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This study has shown that FE management on dairy farms in the North Island of New Zealand could be substantially improved. It is likely that improved FE management would occur if herd managers were provided with more feedback on the success (or otherwise) of their FE management programmes.

KEY WORDS: Facial eczema, zinc, management, dairy cattle, spore counting, fungicide
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