Les and Jan Hollyman were among eight farmers in Nelson with rising two-year-old heifers selected for export to China on a boat leaving earlier this month. But only one of those farmers was able to send animals to quarantine in time for the cut-off date because the initial Tb testing was done only three days before they needed to go.
Nelson and West Coast have a history of false positive readings to Tb testing and Les said retesting normally revealed there were no Tb reactors.
The exporter, Landmark Global Exports, says in its agreement that AsureQuality cannot begin testing until the arrival of the Chinese import permit and that arrived just days before the heifers had to be in quarantine. The company’s managing director in Australia, Sophie Wang, said the permit was out of its hands and the Chinese Government required testing to be done after the permit was issued.
The Hollymans had 11 heifers to go at a contract price of $1750 and five showed swelling two days after the first test, a day before they were due to head to quarantine in Timaru. Other farmers in the region had up to 60 animals contracted for export.
"Thank God it's only 11 – what would have happened if it was 200?" Les said.
Like the other farmers left with heifers that were not in calf and with nowhere to go, Les and Jan were hoping the heifers would get in calf in one cycle and not waste a year or be culled.
Tapawera dairy farmer and Nelson Federated Farmers Dairy chair Martin O'Connor was another whose heifers reacted to the Tb test, in a C10 herd, and were dropped from the live export contract a day before they were to go to quarantine. He had sent 19 to China the year before, when there was a longer time frame for the Tb testing, but this year he was left with 25 unable to go, which he would be attempting to get in calf through December.
"Testing right at the last minute is the problem," he said. “It could be done differently or smarter."
Robbie Peat, from Coast to Coast to Coast Livestock, had three disgruntled clients with nearly 70 heifers between them destined for China that did not have time to retest for Tb.
"If exporters had organised testing even three to four days earlier they would have had time to retest them."
But Wang said that was not possible. Testing had to wait until the Chinese permit arrived and then for a Chinese veterinarian to arrive to inform technicians about testing requirements.
"We're at the mercy of another government," she said. "For us, it's a risk all-round. And you have to draw a line in the sand when (quarantine) shuts.
"I know it's quite frustrating and some will jump up and down, saying they're not going to export. But when it comes around next year and you're getting $1750 for a heifer, that's your reward."
Seven thousand heifers were booked on the January shipment from Timaru. Wang said the timeframe for booking shipments was more restricted in New Zealand because of its definite calving pattern compared with Australia, where calving was generally scattered through the year.
This was the first year the Hollymans had looked at exporting live heifers and they would consider live export again only if the criteria was altered to ensure adequate time for the testing. Les said the heifers could have been tested for Tb earlier, when they had screen tests for bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), Johne's disease and Enzootic bovine leucosis (EBL), but the rules said they had to wait for the export permit.
In their farming business, they buy in weaned dairy heifer calves each year and sell them in calf as rising two-year-olds to dairy farmers. They have about 600 heifers on their properties over winter, as well as 280 beef cattle. They select weaned calves on breeding worth (BW), so Les said any of the export heifers that did not get in calf this year would probably be carried over to next year, but that was a cost and capital was tied up for that time.
Les Hollyman's heifers missed the boat this year.