Drought-breaking rains provide ‘field lab’ for vets to help prevent livestock losses

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livestock diseases
Local Land Services veterinarian, Dr Shaun Slattery

The worst drought in living memory and the relieving rain that has followed in parts of NSW has provided NSW Local Land Services with a ‘field laboratory’ for observing potentially devastating livestock diseases.

The disease investigations also provide an example of where Local Land Services works with producers to conduct surveillance to exclude serious animal diseases.

Working in the Walgett and Narrabri districts in the north west of the state, district veterinarian Dr Shaun Slattery is keenly aware that the area represents the first line of defence in detecting notifiable animal diseases that could enter NSW from Queensland and further north in Australia.

While it was a relief to receive drought-breaking rains in February, Dr Slattery said he saw a spike in farmers reporting livestock diseases and was concerned.

“In the first six months of this year, I conducted around 80 investigations which was roughly double the amount I would see in a normal year.

“Also linked to the breaking of the drought, many of the diseases I investigated presented with unusual clinical signs and history,” Dr Slattery said.

The diseases he saw included nitrite/nitrate poisoning from lush pigweed (Portulaca), foot abscess caused by orf infection (normally associated with scabby mouth of lambs), and contagious ophthalmia of sheep (blight).

Dr Slattery said the region also experienced the highest bush fly numbers he had seen in 30 years as a veterinarian.

Dr Slattery presented his findings in two webinars that clearly met a need within the profession with more than 130 veterinarians registering.

“It is important that field veterinarians share their case reports with others working in the field,” Dr Slattery said.

“The more the knowledge is available to the wider Australian veterinary profession, the more equipped we will be in the future to manage potential threats and outbreaks together.”

Dr Slattery’s on-ground data, as well as that from all Local Land Services district veterinarians around the state is routinely provided to the NSW Department of Industries for disease monitoring purposes.

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