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Fighting Facial Eczema

Thursday, 3 February 2005
Tectra's Lynne Moore looks at facial eczema, what causes it, and how to get rid of it.

Facial eczema is a common toxin found in New Zealand pastures which can markedly reduce productivity.

Lynne says that there are two forms of facial eczema.

"The first is clinical, which is well-known and easily recognised, and secondly there is subclinical which is not as well recognised but can cause reduced liveweight gains and low lambing percentages without animals displaying any of the classical eczema symptoms."

Lynne Moore

Facial eczema is caused by fungus that lives on the pasture litter at the base of the pasture. The toxin produced by this causes liver damage in ruminant animals, which in turn causes jaundice. Bile pigments and photosensitive plant pigments are released into the bloodstream. This results in the animal becoming sunburnt, with a painfully swollen and scabby face and ears and large areas of skin lost.

This fungus thrives in warm, wet, humid conditions when spore counts go up. Lynne believes that this year there will be relatively mild or delayed facial eczema later then usual.

"The rainfall in December has resulted in little build up of dead matter, so spores take longer to get going, however farmers should still keep an eye on weather conditions and spore counts in their area as the situation can change rapidly,"  she says.

Facial eczema outbreaks can be predicted by monitoring spore counts. These are freely available from sources such as veterinarians. Protection from the damaging effects of the fungal toxin can be achieved by using zinc.

As a preventative measure sheep should be drenched weekly with zinc. However a more convenient form of this is the 'time capsule' zinc bolus which will protect the liver from the danger of fungal toxins for up to six weeks. This a more expensive method of administration and must be put in two weeks before the danger period to be successful.
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