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Diseases

MLA’s investment in improved diagnosis, prevention and treatment of livestock diseases helps keep Australia free from foreign diseases and reduces the possibility of widespread epidemics. This is critical for sustaining animal health, industry productivity and preserving domestic and international market access.

Australian livestock face several endemic diseases that adversely affect animal health and welfare, as well as the profitable production of red meat. Diseases are commonly caused by infection, internal and external parasites, plant toxicities, nutritional deficiencies or metabolic disorders.

Although the impact of most infectious diseases can be mitigated through the use of vaccines, the management of some is largely dependent on the control of internal and external parasites, which are blighted by resistance to chemical parasiticides. Various plant toxicities and invasive animals also pose a risk of disease to livestock through ingestion and/or contact, or direct loss through predation.

Core activities

Methods to diagnose, prevent and treat these endemic diseases make up the basis of MLA’s research and development (R&D) investments into animal diseases, which include:

Cattle

Sheep and goats 

All livestock species 

  • Neonatal mortalities 
  • Weaner ill-thrift 
  • Dystocia 
  • Mastitis 
  • Pneumonia 
  • Caseous Lymphadenitis  
  • PigOut® 1080 bait for feral pigs 
  • Botulism 
  • Foot abscess 
  • PAPP baits for foxes, wild dogs and feral cats 
  • HogGone® MESN bait for feral pigs 
  • Bacterial enteritis 
  • Gastrointestinal nematodes 
 
  • Sheep measles
 
  • Campylobacter abortion 
 
  • Sarcosporidiosis  
 
 
  • Gidgee poisoning  
  • Pyrrolizidine alkaloid poisoning 
 

 

  • Biserrula photosensitivity 
 

Benefits to industry 

  • The prevention and treatment of livestock diseases significantly increases the health and welfare of livestock and the productivity and profitability of the Australian red meat industry. 
  • Reducing disease infection and spread increases growth rates, reproductive success and the overall quality of life of livestock. 
  • Improved animal health contributes to enhanced carcase quality, meat quality and overall yield.  

Best practice

Livestock diseases have a significant impact on productivity and profitability. Proactive biosecurity management on-farm can help reduce disease risks and impacts.

Diseases that affect cattle, sheep and goats may be:

Livestock affected by diseases may not always show obvious clinical signs of the disease. The disease may still be having a negative impact on productivity by:

  • reducing growth rates
  • reducing reproductive rates
  • causing condemnation of carcases
  • reducing milk production
  • reducing fleece weight, fibre diameter and staple strength
  • damaging hides and fleeces.

Diseases also have a negative impact on the welfare of animals, especially when they are suffering clinically from it. Diseased animals are usually in a weakened state. In this state they are less able to feed, drink and seek shelter. They are also at higher risk of attack by predators.

Diseases of livestock might be zoonoses – meaning they are transmissible to humans. Examples of zoonoses include Q fever, leptospirosis and scabby mouth.

Risks and risk management

Some infectious diseases have highly visible consequences, while others remain silent for weeks or months. Where, in the absence of a drought or seasonal feed shortage, there has been a dramatic change in the condition of animals, you should suspect that disease is present and arrange for veterinary investigations to be carried out.

With all diseases and nutritional deficiencies, assess the risk based on previous local district history by seeking local information from veterinarians, state government officers and consultants, and if available, the property history.

Many infectious diseases of cattle, sheep and goats do not occur in Australia and it is important to keep these diseases out of Australia. Farm and industry biosecurity plans help ensure this. Information on national biosecurity plans for diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and scrapie can be found on the Animal health Australia website and on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

Notifiable diseases

There are several diseases in animals that are notifiable. The Australian Government provides a national list on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website. If you suspect or can confirm that an animal is showing symptoms of a notifiable disease you must report it to:

  • your local vet
  • your state or territory's department of primary industries or agriculture by phoning the Emergency animal disease watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

Principles of herd or flock health

Good biosecurity consists of recognition, containment, prevention, treatment and eradication (if possible) of animal disease. A proactive approach to managing herd or flock health should be taken by:

  • learning about the common cattle, sheep or goat diseases that occur locally
  • developing a herd or flock disease management plan to manage the health of animals already on the farm and to prevent introduced stock bringing new diseases onto the farm
  • aiming for prevention rather than treatment
  • identifying historic sites or sites of old yards and stock routes on the property that may be potential sources of disease
  • using an appropriate combination of management, preventative treatments, vaccination and curative treatments to manage the health of the herd or flock
  • ensuring optimal nutrition to allow livestock to develop an effective immune response to diseases
  • vaccinating against diseases for which vaccines are available and cost-effective
  • quarantining all introduced livestock to prevent the introduction of new diseases
  • monitoring the health and welfare of livestock as frequently as practical
  • promptly treating or euthanising (where necessary) any animals suffering from disease
  • quarantining carcases of any animals that die suddenly, unexpectedly or for unknown reasons for necropsy and diagnosis
  • appropriately disposing of carcases to limit possible further spread of disease
  • seeking veterinary advice for any unexplained health problems.