Buyer-beware focus on SA sheep diseases

Buyer-beware focus on SA sheep diseases


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EDUCATION NEEDED: Trevor James, Coolawang, Mundulla West, says an education program will be critical on the changes before the spring selling season.

EDUCATION NEEDED: Trevor James, Coolawang, Mundulla West, says an education program will be critical on the changes before the spring selling season.

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THE onus will be on producers to prevent a spike in ovine johnes disease and footrot in SA after major changes to the management of the diseases were announced last week.

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THE onus will be on producers to prevent a spike in ovine johnes disease and footrot in SA after major changes to the management of the diseases were announced last week.

PIRSA, with the SA Sheep Advisory Group and Livestock SA, has developed a new OJD management program and a modified SA footrot management program.

Any suspicion of OJD will still need to be reported to Biosecurity SA but infected flocks will have the ability to trade.

Movement restrictions remain in place for highly virulent strains of footrot but those with lower virulent strains will have increased trading opportunities.

It will become ‘buyer beware’ with producers needing to look carefully at National Vendor Declaration and National Sheep Health Declarations and have a strong focus on on-farm biosecurity.

Further consultation will occur on interstate trading rules and whether to relax the requirement for all sheep entering SA to be approved OJD vaccinates.

SA Sheep Advisory Group chairman Ian Rowett said the changes to surveillance programs, both interstate and in SA, in the past 12 months had prompted a review.

“It is not possible to have a regulated program with a voluntary surveillance system,” he said.

He says the changes will also help remove the “unnecessary stigma” associated with both OJD and footrot.

Mr Rowett believes the money spent on subsidising the vaccine for infected and at risk flocks under the previous program has been a good investment, quoting from the 2016 OJD report by then University of Adelaide’s Kym Abbott, which states the program had been effective and reduced the spread of the disease in SA.

But he made clear the report, which some in industry had criticised for not being widely released, was paid for by PIRSA so it was their decision whether to release it.

The Sheep Industry Fund is expected to see significant savings but it will still fund PIRSA to provide assistance to affected producers to undertake testing and best practice management programs to achieve a low risk status.

Livestock SA president Joe Keynes says the majority of industry sees it as a good move and is pleased SA’s OJD management program aligns with the new national approach.

“Most producers had an understanding that it was going to happen,” he said.

He is hopeful PIRSA’s One Biosecurity program will be released by the end of the month.

“It is a critical tool to help producers through the changes and give market assurance,” he said.

But Tantanoola sheep producer Peter Altschwager believes industry has been “negligent” not resisting the government deregulation of footrot and OJD.

He questions PIRSA defining the diseases as endemic, especially OJD, with only 86 infected properties from  7000 active sheep property identification codes in SA.

“If only 5 per cent of producers don’t do the right thing, it is enough to get out of control,” he said.

“Yes producers will need to fill out a piece of paper with their status but can we rely on this – it’s doubtful.”

He hopes SA will restrict interstate in-bound movements to  OJD vaccinated sheep but believes industry may have already lost the ability to buy, with any confidence, disease-free sheep.

“My understanding is with any sheep from an OJD infected flock, any sheep with clinical signs could be drafted off, the balance vaccinated and sold in a SA feature sale,” he said.

Mr Altschwager says industry should have greater power to collect important abattoir information, including making abattoir surveillance a condition of a processor’s licence.

Assurance program must be maintained

Mundulla West producer Trevor James acknowledges nothing lasts forever but says the SA Ovine Johnes Disease program has been money well-spent.

He commends all those involved in the past two decades for keeping the prevalence of the disease low.

“A lot of SA producers have a lot to be grateful for – they have a chance to keep their flocks free of OJD by what they buy,” he said.

But he understands the decision to cease regulation because, without mandatory abattoir testing, surveillance has become more difficult.

As a Border Leicester stud breeder and seller of first cross ewes, good on-farm biosecurity has always been critical and Mr James says this will be even more so going forward.

“The discontinuation of the OJD management program is a relaxation of policy, however the responsibility of the purchaser to inform themselves of sheep health status health status is increased as well as the seller’s requirement to provide accurate health declarations to purchasers,” he said.

He would like to see health documentation available electronically to buyers prior to them loading sheep.

Coolawang has a MN3 status in the Market Assurance Program and is in its sixth year of vaccinating all lambs retained on-property with Gudair – about 2500 a year. 

“It is about protecting ourselves but also our clients,” he said.

Coolawang has been a member of MAP since 2001 and Mr James says it would be disappointing if the program did not continue.

“It is a great vehicle for us to verify our health status with an independent vet managing your program,” he said.

He will continue to request abattoir screening of adult sheep at TFI.

Mr James said an education program on the changes, for both producers and agents, would be critical ahead of the spring selling season.

“Only a thorough education program will ensure that the low level of OJD in SA is maintained,” he said.

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