Mon, Apr 15, 2024 5:00 AM

Hard work brings results


Eloise Martyn

A decades-long campaign to eradicate Bovine Tuburculosis from the Buller region is nearing complete success with only one infected herd left in the area.

Buller has a long history of TB infection (Bovine Tuberculosis) in both wildlife and cattle herds, with a huge number of cattle infected in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Farmers lost huge numbers of animals, and some were unable to continue dairying.

Over the past decades, farmers and TB staff have worked hard to eliminate TB from herds and are seeing the results.

“The number of infected herds in Buller district is now down to one - a huge feat,” says Heather Alexander, OSPRI regional partner for the Upper South Island.

“While possum control continues, farmers will benefit from fewer testing requirements as the risk of TB in livestock is reduced.”

OSPRI is the national organisation that works with the farming industry to manage animal diseases - especially TB - in New Zealand.

“In February 2023, significant areas in the Grey and Buller Districts shifted to annual testing of all cattle and deer over 12-15 months old.”

This change was met with relief by farmers who have gone their whole careers battling the TB disease and having to cater to rigorous TB testing. In February 2024, an additional portion of the Buller District was revoked from a Movement Control area, moving to annual testing.

Brian Jones, a fifth-generation dairy farmer running a herd of 225 cows south of Karamea, who has volunteered over 10 years of his time to the OSPRI committee, says all farmers in the area have a connection with the Kahurangi National Park or native bush areas which are corridors to the Kahurangi which keeps the risk real.

“Testing stock can be another pressure to farmers with having to get stock in for testing, waiting for the results, and re-testing if required while not knowing the outcome,” Brian explains.

“In the mid-80s we had a herd of 150, on one occasion we had 23 cows react to the test,” he recalls. Animal health is at the forefront of keeping TB away, however it is a threat to human health.

“TB is not good news. In 2022, TB was second only to COVID-19 for worldwide deaths,” Brian says. “It’s still out there and we just need to keep working on trying to eliminate it.”

Brian says that it’s great news that the area is close to eliminating the disease.

“In the early 2000s, 20 per cent of the national herds infected were located in Karamea. Now we have one case in Karamea - it’s a great result of all the hard work,” Brian says.

Brian’s herd now has a status of C7 and C8 – meaning his stock have been TB-free for 7 or 8 years (C stands for clear and the number following is the years being clear).

“Our farm here had 22 straight years of infected stock and we never thought we would get the all clear.  It looked unlikely, but we did. We hope that other farmers with TB-infected herds have the same opportunities as we have had to get clear of it,” Brian adds.

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