Friday, February 23, 2024

Manawatū farmer to head ovis programme

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Manawatū farmer and former vet services manager Michelle Simpson has taken the reins to head the ovis management programme.
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New ovis management programme manager Michelle Simpson says sheep measles can potentially cost farmers a lot of money, with everyone having a part to play in protecting NZ’s sheepmeat market.

Manawatū farmer and former vet services manager Michelle Simpson has taken the reins to head the ovis management programme.

She takes up the role as project manager from inaugural programme manager Dan Lynch who has retired after 29 years in the role.

Ovis Management Ltd (OML) is 100% owned by the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and funded by meat processors.

OML works with farmers and processors to maintain awareness and promote the control of C.ovis (sheep measles) to all dog owners across New Zealand.

From Halcombe in Manawatū, Simpson has a background in laboratory science and was formerly manager of the large animal department for Southern Rangitīkei Veterinary Services.

She is married to a sheep and beef farmer and is also a volunteer firefighter.

Still getting her feet under the table in her new role, she is looking forward to managing the programme in its aim to reduce sheep measles.

“I’m still getting into it all, there’s a lot to learn yet but I am looking forward to the challenge,” Simpson said.

C.ovis is caused by the Taenia ovis tapeworm, of which dogs can become infected by eating untreated meat or offal, infected with live cysts and then spread to sheep through tapeworm eggs in dog faeces left in grazing areas.

Eggs can also be spread from dog faeces over large areas, predominantly by flies.

Sheep measles pose no risk to human health but cause blemishes in sheepmeat, which is undesirable for consumers and particularly for the export market.

“It costs farmers a lot of money due to condemned stock, so it is an important issue for the primary sector,” she said.

Best practice for dog health and sheep measles is for all farm dogs to be treated monthly.

“A frequent issue with ovis is that if a farmer is not sending in lambs for processing they may not know that they are passing the problem on,” she said.

“I see an important part of my role as helping farmers to spread the word that everyone has a part to play in protecting the sheepmeat market.”

It is important to get the message out that all dog owners who take their dogs near farmland, or where sheep graze, must dose their dogs every month.

“That is essential because the tapeworm has a short life cycle and dosing three-monthly is not enough to stop the parasite from spreading,” she said.

Farmers and landowners can control who brings dogs onto their property. 

“It’s your land, your livelihood and your rules and if a dog does not need to come onto the property, then it is best not to have it there,” she said.

Simpson is working with both rural and urban vet clinics to further raise awareness of the importance of dosing dogs before they go into rural areas.

“Most urban dog owners are unlikely to know about the risk of Ovis, so it’s about getting the message out that we all have a part to play,” she said.

Lynch said the past 29 years have shown that given the right support, access to resources and material, sheep farmers have been able to reduce the prevalence of sheep measles on farm and so minimise the risk posed by its presence.

The prevalence figure is derived from meat inspection and processor summary data across plants.

He said NZ sheep farmers have continued to embrace the responsibility of maintaining sheep measles prevalence at low levels.

This is seen in low prevalence being detected in recent seasons and reduced numbers of lambs being downgraded or condemned for sheep measles.

OML was established with the goals of maintaining awareness of sheep measles and reducing the risk of market issues arising from sheep measles.

While OML can promote and provide resources to maintain awareness ultimately control activities on sheep farms remain the key, Lynch said.

Overall, national prevalence has remained at the low level, about 0.40%, in recent years.

“The ability to further reduce sheep measles levels will be by small gains and incremental improvements with the fecundity of the parasite challenging any reduction or weakening of control activity,” he said.

One area of focus by OML is using social media to build engagement with not only sheep farmers, but also groups impacting on overall prevalence levels. 

This has included work with hunters, Fish and Game, the Department of Conservation and the Walking Access Commission to raise understanding of dog owners’ responsibilities when entering rural areas.

The increase in the number of farms treating dogs monthly is a major contributor to the overall decrease in infection. 

“The key for me is how farmers have responded, seeing the benefit to do it without legislation – man they have done a good job,” he said.

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