Farmers in New Zealand are being asked to collect sheep droppings as part of a groundbreaking research project on facial eczema.
The three-year study will help Beef and Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) understand how widespread the disease is in New Zealand.
Along with examining the prevalence of the disease, the study will also determine if a warming climate is having an effect on its distribution.
B+LNZ is looking for 350 “enthusiastic farmers”, 22 in each of the country’s 16 regions, to collect samples from October to May each year for three years.
Facial eczema, which is associated with a toxin-producing fungus, affects pasture grazing livestock and there is no cure.
The toxin can cause permanent liver damage resulting in photosensitivity and sunburn. If the animal survives, its production will be limited for life.
B+LNZ’s Economic Service estimates the annual cost of the disease to the New Zealand sheep, beef, dairy and deer sectors to be around NZ$332 million (€181 million).
Farmers participating in the study would be required to collect samples 16 times, roughly every two weeks, from their flock of sheep for each year of the study.
“It’s as simple as taking a walk in a paddock, there’s no need to yard the animals. Just scoop up 10 individual fresh samples from the ground,” Suzi Keeling, B+LNZ sector science strategy manager, said.
In return for the samples, B+LNZ will provide farmers with a faecal spore count result once laboratory testing is completed.
The participants will also have access to a monthly updated map showing spore counts around the country.
Keeling said that those farmers who volunteer to take part in the research will be playing an integral role in shaping future tools and solutions for facial eczema management.
“We want samples collected across New Zealand regardless of whether farms have experienced facial eczema in the past.
“B+LNZ will provide instructions, sampling kits and cover the costs to courier samples to the laboratory,” she said.