Farmer affected by disease backs eradication

Ben Walling and Sarah Flintoft, who have been caught up in the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, on...
Ben Walling and Sarah Flintoft, who have been caught up in the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, on their Five Rivers farm with Friesian-cross bulls which are not infected with the disease. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Ben Walling knows all about the effects of Mycoplasma bovis on livestock and people — and he believes phased eradication of the disease is the best bet.

Long-term management might have made ‘‘life a bit easier’’ in the short term but the Northern Southland farmer and contractor believed it would mean ‘‘millions’’ of animals would die over the long term.

But to ensure eradication was successful, farmers had to help, otherwise the Ministry for Primary Industries did not have a hope of success, he said.

Mr Walling received calves from Southern Centre Dairies, the Southland dairy operation which is believed to be the first farm infected.

When the calves turned up at his property, some were so sick they had to be carried off the truck and nine were dead by the next day, he said.

Once Mycoplasma bovis was confirmed, he and partner Sarah Flintoft ‘‘lost everything’’ on the calf-rearing side of their business.

They had just over 1500 calves on the property. More than 400 either died or were shot, and the rest went to slaughter.

The disease was ‘‘bloody awful’’ — ‘‘you feel guilty ... you feel stigmatised’’ — although the way MPI handled it was ‘‘slightly worse’’, he said.

The people he was dealing with every day on the ground were excellent, but those further up the line did not have ‘‘a ... clue about farming’’.

People needed to remember the disease affected people as well as animals, and it was not until you were affected that you saw the worst side of it, he said.

‘‘If they let it [the disease] go, and they [animals] start dying left, right and centre ... MPI will come in under a different hat. It will be animal welfare and they will slaughter herds under it,’’ he said.

But North Otago farmer Kerry Dwyer believed the disease would ‘‘beat’’ MPI, saying it had so far, and the ministry had not been collaborating or co-operating with industry.

Mr Dwyer and his wife Rosie voluntarily sent 400 animals to slaughter after receiving a positive test, against the advice of MPI.

The couple, who felt they had no other choice, had been awaiting compensation for 20 weeks.

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