Almost 300 cattle will be culled in the Kimberley to protect WA’s “BJD-free” status after government moves to stem an outbreak of Bovine Johne’s Disease originating in Rockhampton were endorsed by the pastoral industry.
More than 470 at-risk bulls imported to WA since 2006 have been traced back to a Rockhampton stud through the national livestock identification system, but 181 have since died of natural causes, being sent to slaughter or exported.
After meeting yesterday, the Cattle Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee opted to cull the rest of the cattle to retain WA’s nationally unique BJD-free status and protect international export trade.
Key for WA producers exporting cattle to countries with BJD eradication programs, the status can be retained only if at-risk properties are destocked of infected cattle and veterinary testing is carried out to determine the extent of the outbreak.
An incurable chronic intestinal disease, BJD reduces animals’ ability to absorb food and water and spreads through faeces and milk. It poses no risks to humans but makes cattle sick and emaciated and eventually will kill them.
Committee chair Ruth Webb-Smith said the risk of BJD spreading in the Kimberley was low but the suspect status of introduced bulls had to be resolved.
About $630,000 would be spent on trucking, sample collection and laboratory testing. Affected producers would be compensated.
Department chief veterinary officer Peter Morcombe said the program would start as soon as it was practical.
He said affected property managers should muster their bulls, remove infected animals from the herd and take faecal and tissue samples tor testing.
Producers who saw signs of chronic diarrhoea and wasting in adult cattle should contact a veterinarian, he said.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture has imposed restrictions at 150 properties since detecting the disease.
With a long incubation period, BJD can take several years to show up in young cattle.
Widespread worldwide and endemic in the Victorian dairy industry, BJD was estimated to cost the Victorian beef and dairy industries $7.5 million a year in 2006.
WA has been a declared BJD free zone since 1999. Nine earlier outbreaks in cattle, the last in 2006, have been successfully eradicated through management.
PGA WA spokesman Ian Randles said while the presence of infected animals was unfortunate, it was not symptomatic of a lack of management or control in WA.
“Despite good systems being in place, there has been a source of infection in Queensland,” he said.
“The beef cattle industry in the whole of Australia is very active in preventing the spread of BJD and I just see this as being an unfortunate circumstance.”
He said the outbreak could eventually lead to productivity losses if cattle lost condition but the seriousness of the outbreak would not be determined until further biosecurity testing was completed.