The true cost of livestock diseases

23 July 2015

A new study, funded by MLA, has revealed which diseases are having the greatest economic and productivity affect on Australia's sheep, cattle and goat industries.

The findings in the report were:

Top five sheep diseases

  1. Peri-natal mortality $540.4 million (includes losses due to dystocia – difficult births – see disease number 3 below)
  2. Internal parasites $435.9 million
  3. Dystocia $219.6 million
  4. Weaner ill thrift and mortality $187.55 million
  5. Flystrike $173.17 million

Top five cattle diseases (figures are the total cost to northern and southern herds)

  1. Cattle tick $156 million
  2. BVDV/Pestivirus $117 million
  3. Buffalo Fly $98.1 million
  4. Dystocia $97.8 million
  5. Neonatal calf mortality $96.2 million

Here we talk to MLA's Program Manager for Animal Health, Welfare and Biosecurity Jim Rothwell about why knowing this information is important and how it will be used by MLA.

Q. Why does the red meat industry need to know which diseases are having the greatest impact, both economically and productivity wise?

As MLA and its advisory groups consider priorities for research, development and extension (RD&E) we need to know, among other things, what are the most important diseases in terms of cost. 

Then, if there are good researchable questions or adoption and extension efforts that are needed to tackle such a disease, any research proposals that address that disease are ranked highly.  For example does the survey mean that our R&D efforts are low on BDVD?

The survey does not address emerging diseases which have not reached their full extent – such as Theileria or BJD where investment in diagnosis, control, vaccination or epidemiology are needed despite a low current impact.  Exotic or even reputational and food safety issues are assumed to be under control – but that is not to say that research into say Foot and Mouth Disease is wasted.

Q. How should producers use this knowledge?

I certainly think it is an opportunity for producers to look at their own farming system and consider whether these diseases are, or could be, causing obvious or hidden losses.  Do you have cattle tick or sheep worms managed in an optimal way?

Q. Realistically, what is the potential gain from getting control over the biggest impacting diseases in regards to on farm profitability?

The report gives a good guide as to losses and indicates what potential improvements are possible.  Do you need to improve things, do you need expert advice, would benchmarking performance be useful? Or perhaps it gives comfort that the money and effort being spent on a particular disease is worthwhile,

Q. How will industry keep abreast of improvements made in these areas of disease management?

I imagine industry will want to repeat this analysis in five or 10 years and see what has changed. 

Q. Where can producers go to find the best practice guidelines for managing the impact of these diseases? Keep an eye out on Friday Feedback for regular features on particular diseases and what control or preventative measures are currently available.

There are a number of fact sheets and reports available on state department of ag websites and the MLA website. I'd advise producers to look to sheep and cattle extension programs, such as Making More from Sheep  and More Beef from Pastures  and to seek professional advice.


Jim Rothwell E:

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