Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Cattle Parasite Concerns Across Australia

Cattle parasite spread further than thought

A parasite linked to dogs and responsible for an estimated $30 million loss to the national cattle industry each year is present throughout Australia, a University of Sydney study has revealed.

Previously this parasite was believed to be active only on the east coast of Australia and passed on mainly by domestic dogs. The new findings, published in the latest edition of Veterinary Parasitology, show other dog populations are infected and have important implications for vaccination development.

“The research also raises crucial questions about which other domestic and native animals could be affected by the parasite,” said Dr Jan Slapeta, the lead author of the study, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

The Neospora caninum parasite, passed from dogs to cattle, is carried in a dormant state in cows. When the cow becomes pregnant the parasite becomes active and can cause an abortion.

If instead the cow with the parasite has an apparently healthy female calf the parasite can be silently passed on to that healthy animal and give it a much higher chance of aborting in its first few pregnancies.

Dogs become hosts to the parasite after eating infected meat (from a variety of animals).

“Until now abortions caused by Neospora caninum have been identified along the eastern coast of Australia and associated with domestic dogs known to harbour the parasite,” said Dr Graeme Brown, a senior author of the study, also from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University.

“What we did for the first time was look at two other dog populations from across Australia – wild dogs and remote Aboriginal community dogs (which live in varying degrees of domestication). We found that both populations have a high degree of exposure.”

Two important conclusions come from that result.

The first is that the range of the parasite is not confined to the east coast of Australia but extends across the country, placing more of Australia’s cattle market at risk than previously realised.

Secondly the presence of the parasite in wild dogs means Neospora caninum has a previously unrecognised ability to infect native wildlife. Its possible impact on Australian ecosystems is therefore unknown and likely to have been underestimated.

“Understanding the interactions of native wildlife, the cattle industry and dog populations will help our efforts to fight this infection. Most importantly this new knowledge about its distribution and agents can underpin the development of an effective vaccine,” Dr Brown said.

[sourced from online Qld Country Life]

This development highlights the need for invoking the cliche about eternal never know what might be next.

Whether this is an issue in northern beef herds is unknown, but it seems to be more of an issue of relevance along the east coast where its presence has been known for some time.

It also once again highlights a need to better manage dogs, both domestic and feral, nd wild dogs including potentially dingoes [ and in other countries possibly coyotes and wolves] as all seem to be hosts to the disease.  What is not stated though, is how to effectively protect or treat the issue in dogs......with clindamycin seen as a possible control; the disease may also kill pups.

Wikipedia has more information, including some concerns about birds being implicated in transmision of the disease in cattle as well.  More problems!

The link below goes to a very thorough review of neosporosis in cattle, and is the full article, covering the disease and practical issues around management and control.   - article on neosporosis.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spraying with Pesticides? Are YOU operating Legally?

The stories of improper pesticide spraying are the stuff of legends.  I am aware of some few cases where those involved,  had made people ill, and in a few cases people have actually died due to poor practices.

More common issues involved wrong areas, wrong product, spray drift causing problems, neighbours affected, or sometimes even worse, properties some distance away being affected,

Thankfully, the last problem is much less common now......but it did happen sometimes if products such as 2,4-D were used poorly.

All this means you must take reasonable care.

If  looking to brush up on knowledge of when and how to record weather data, you now have a new resource.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has released a new Spray Equipment fact sheet, Weather Monitoring Equipment for Agricultural Spraying Operations.

The fact sheet answers key questions, including when and where to measure weather conditions and how long to keep records.

Compiled by consultant Bill Gordon, the fact sheet delivers key tips, including:
• There are legal requirements to measure and record the weather parameters at the site of application during spray operations.
• It may be useful to have more than one device to compare accuracy.
• Select equipment that can be easily operated and easily recalibrated.
• On-board weather stations offer ‘on-the-go’ monitoring to allow the operator to make better decisions about the suitability of conditions while spraying.

To download the fact sheet and other information about spray application, visit ipment-Weather-Monitoring

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bahia Grass - Best Turf for Water Efficiency

In the rush to use new turf species and new varieties sometimes this old stalwart is overlooked.

Bahia grass - Paspalum notatum is one of the very best grasses for water efficiency in the monsoonal tropics.  In areas with an extended dry period, it will stay green for the longest, and quickly rebound after extended dry weather - even as long as 7 or 8 months - to continue to thrive.

In the NT, it is best to avoid using the more readily available variety - Pensacola - as it is not as tough as others, tends to be more clumping, often appearing to have bare areas betwen plants and most importantly, it produces abundant seed heads year round so you are always needing to mow.

The older areas of Darwin often have a locally adapted ecotype, of unknown origin.  It produces seeds, but is usually sown by runners [ the other varieties can be too].  It was the predominant lawn in Darwin from the 1950s to about the 1980s, but less used today.  This line is ok as a turf species, and is very tough, and water efficient, but does tend to have a lot of spicules on the leaves - silica spurs that can irritate skin, especially where kids are rolling around on the lawn.  Argentine has less of these spicules, and so does Pensacola.  Its disadvantage is planting by runners, a time consumimg job.

The preferred seed sown line is Argentine.  We originally organised testing of this variety in the early 1970s in the Top End, importing seed from the USA, and first seeds were sown at Berrimah Farm.  It is still there, looking great. 

From the original evaluation, Argentine was selected and used in a lot of the early development around Palmerston in grassed waterways, and in park and landscape development after Cyclone Tracy in the reconstruction of Darwin.  Seed sowing is relatively low cost and a lawn can be developed in 10 -12 weeks.  No Australian production of seed has occurred and all Bahia grass seed is imported from the USA [ so is all couch, zoysia seed etc too].

The advantages of the Argentine variety of Bahia grass include:
  • almost no seed head production, except a small amount around January in the north of Australia
  • excellent spread and forming a dense surface cover
  • very tough, reasonably resistant to wear
  • low water needs
  • excellent drought resistance and quick recovery when water is applied
  • easily mown at around 30 - 45mm high, although it does grow moderately quickly in warm, wet weather - weekly mowing needed in the wet season for domestic lawns; maybe every three weeks in the dry season
  • very little thatch development
  • mostly free of pests and diseases
All of the Bahia grass types tend to become invaded by the awful weed grass "red seedy grass" or "Mackey's pest", which is botanically Chrysopogon acicularis.  This spreads by very insidious runners and produces huge numbers of seed heads.  There are herbicide solutions available for the control of this weed in Bahia grass, but products are not easily available for domestic use because of commercial packaging sizes - we can do this work if needed.  Efforts to eradicate it will pay big dividends.  Often seed is carried on legs, clothes, equipment and similar items so a biosecurity approach is needed to keep it out in the first place.

For a large lawn or open space area and especially where there is a need to be prudent with water use in the dry season.......Argentine Bahia grass is a good option.  It is also widely used as a water efficient turf in Florida [which is where the photo was taken].  Do not over water, as this induces ingress by other water loving species, including broad leaved carpet grass in our environment.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Northern Beef - Production: Making Cows Perform

Productivity among beef herds is about cow productivity.  No calves means no productivity!!

In tropical australia low calving and weaning percentages have long been blamed as a key factor for poor production.  Yes, bulls are needed too - but you need to raise calves.

A recent major project has been slowly releasing some of the first data analyses.  While some of it is not necessarily new, it does put hard data out about major influences and how some producers can do things much better - even in the same area.  and it covers nearly 80000 - yes 80000........cows.

That has to be a significant learning experience for others.

The media report is below.

What makes a Cash Cow?

17 May, 2012 04:00 AM

WITH northern Australia home to the majority of the national breeding herd, it's fitting that a research project on an equally epic scale comprising more than 78,000 head is producing some fascinating insights into cattle fertility across Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia.

On the eve of Beef Australia 2012 in Rockhampton last week, more than 100 producers, vets and other researchers involved in the Meat and Livestock Australia-funded Cash Cow project met in Rockhampton to discuss the project's ongoing findings.

The project has, over four years from 2008 to 2011, monitored the reproductive performance of 78,256 breeding females located on 75 commercial beef cattle properties between St George in Queensland and the Kimberley in WA.

It's one of the largest projects ever funded by MLA and has been conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland, DEEDI, Northern Territory Department of Resources, and AusVet Animal Health Services, in collaboration with cattle veterinarians, cattle producers, and data capture provider Outcross Performance.

It set out to answer three main questions - how can producers readily and accurately determine how their breeding herd is performing; why do some breeding mobs achieve expected levels of performance while others don't; and why do some breeding females readily become pregnant after calving and wean a calf while others take much longer to become pregnant or fail to wean a calf.

Project leader, Professor Michael McGowan of the School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, said an important finding was that overall half of the breeding mobs monitored achieved weaning rates of less than 70 percent. In the extensive breeding regions of North Queensland, the NT and Kimberley, half of the mobs achieved weaning rates of less than 60pc. However, the top performing 25pc of mobs achieved weaning rates of 80pc.

"Our study has shown that there are herds that are achieving good beef output in what would be considered poorer quality country and they're clearly achieving that through good management," Prof McGowan said.

"The significant thing is that with good management you can achieve good levels of beef output in many of the regions of northern Australia."

Some of the factors which have already been identified from the analysis of the Cash Cow data as having a big impact on the proportion of cows back in calf by four months after calving are:

•Whether a female successfully reared her last pregnancy or not.
•Body condition score at the previous year's pregnancy diagnosis muster.
•The ratio of average faecal phosphorus to metabolisable energy ratio during the first three months of lactation.
•Period of the year of the previous calving.
•Timing of onset and duration of the wet season.

Some of the factors significantly affecting the losses from confirmed pregnancy to weaning which have been identified are:
•Whether a female successfully reared her last pregnancy or not.
•Exposure to hot very hot weather during the month of calving.
•Period of the year when calving occurred.
•The ratio of average crude protein to dry-matter digestibility during the last trimester of pregnancy.
•Body condition score at the time of first annual muster prior to when calving occurred.

Prof McGowan said the Cash Cow analysis team would continue to study the Cash Cow database, which contains more than six million bits of data.

"Technically the research phase of the project will be completed at the end of the year," he said. "We've identified a number of important factors and we will be doing further work over the next couple of months to better understand what is happening with these factors and also identify further factors that may be affecting performance.  "For the first time we have real data, derived from commercial herds, defining the beef output from breeding herds measured as kilos of beef per adult equivalent.  "There is quite a range, but we're also looking at the efficiency with which that beef is produced."

Once complete, the project will among other things, generate an internationally unique database enabling northern Australian beef producers and their advisers to accurately model the potential economic outcome of changing reproductive management.

[ partially sourced Qld Country Life online]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Updated Hybrid Toilet by Gough Plastics

Sanitation is vital for good hygiene.  This is a great design that meets sanitation needs as well as operating effectively, and at low cost, even in remote areas.
Gough Plastics’ Hybrid Toilet System is a ‘stand alone’ toilet facility that is both functional and user friendly. It was designed and created to collect waste, treat and reduce the volume of waste, and deliver a small volume of high quality effluent to ground. The system is widely used on roadsides and recreational sites around Australia, and even overseas.  It can be, and is used, inside houses and tourist accomodation as well, especially where water is restricted or there is a need to better manage environmental impacts.

While a common system around Australia, it has surprisingly not been the favoured system in many NT roadside areas, with our long waterless periods of the year seen as a factor.........yet it is used in many other arid areas around the other states of Australia.  It is a very good system and deserves much wider use. 

It was developed out of a need to protect freshwater underground on small ocean islands, where this water was often the main source of water for the island.

After years of research and refinement, Gough Plastics has found a way to improve the quality of its original award-winning Hybrid Toilet System. And the improvements benefit the users as well as the maintainers of the toilets.

Users of the toilet will be impressed with the new ventilator system. The new innovation sees the addition of an extraction fan combined with an odour filter to neutralise odours, releasing only clean air into the environment. Fresh air is continuously drawn down the toilet opening ensuring that any odour generated is expelled out the vent pipe and through a McBernsOdour Filter. The filters use a specially formulated media to capture sulfide gas and other odours and neutralise them by changing the molecular structure. Replacement cartridges are used when the filter media reaches saturation. The cartridges are safe to handle and easy to install.

Maintainers of this system will be impressed with its cost effectiveness and the ease of access to the ground-level fans. Two Fernco Couplings make it even easier to install and access the fan. The Rule In-Line Fans are available in both 12 and 24 volt, and are fitted with a low voltage cut off switch and a timer to save on power. Prior to installation, the fan’s motor is soaked with CRC Soft Seal to add further corrosion resistance.

Gough Plastics is a family-owned and operated business with an environmental focus that influences every aspect of their profession. They have a proud tradition of being innovators, creating products from the research and design phase all the way through to manufacture and installation.

For more information and photos visit:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Northern Beef Production - Struggles Economically

The northern beef industry is on a financial razor's edge as rising debt meets falling land prices.

Consultant, Phil Holmes, told this month's Beef 2012 seminar in Rockhampton that a typical northern beef business is losing $100,000 a year, in Mr Holmes's estimation, at a time when the rangelands are shedding value faster than any other land category, and beef margins continue to tighten.

"At the moment, if the price of beef falls by 10 cents, it will tip the average northern beef herd into the red," Mr Holmes said. "That's how fine the margins are."

Mr Holmes, a vetaran farm consultant renowned for not mincing his words, painted a picture in which wide swathes of the northern beef industry borrowed heavily against rangeland values that rose by orders of magnitude over other land categories.

But for the past five years, rangelands values have been falling with no bottom in sight.

That fall has unmasked the fact many beef operations have been surviving on increasing borrowings, not on cash flow.  Incomes have been savaged by years of poor rainfall and declining beef prices, and increasingly, interest payments.

"In the north, you need to maintain equity at 85 per cent in the long term. "If you let it drop below that, for a family operation interest will consume too much of your working capital and you won't have enough cash left over to fund the business in other areas." "Not everyone took on debt; a lot of people had existing debt that just got worse through that period. But it's just crippling the industry. There is too much debt out there, and not enough production to cover it."

Mr Holmes said in the mid-1970s, the value of rangelands property began to rise a little faster than wheatbelt and high rainfall country.

In 2000, rangelands values cut loose from other land trends and went ballistic, so that by 2007 rangelands had appreciated about 700 per cent in 30 years. Over the same period, high rainfall country had appreciated 330pc, wheatbelt land about 200pc.

In 2007, rangelands property began a sharp correction that has since taken values back about 15 per cent. The other land categories began to correct in 2009, but not with the same severity. While land prices have taken flight, beef prices have done the opposite. In real terms, beef prices haven't changed since 1949.

"The only reason we're still in business is that we've grown more efficient," Mr Holmes said.

However many northern beef operations haven't adopted efficiencies, he said, maintaining out-of-date practices while masking income shortfalls with borrowings.

This was Phil holmes at the recent Beef Conference in Rockhampton.  You can add the 2011 live export disaster to the above issues and it is why beef is a bit of a problem.

I would also like to think that many producers have abandoned any thought of improved pastures, even in smaller areas.  Better pastures do mean better production, especially in wetter regions such as the Top End of the NT and much of coastal and near coastal Queensland.

And remember, it is us as consumers who have an expectation that food prices will continue to go down just like electronics prices.  Maybe we just need to realise that food production while more efficient than previous years, is probably unable to make enormous gains in production, although productivity of labour has risen.  Poorer seasonal conditions cannot be changed.

It would be interesting to compare many of these things over the 2010 - 2012 period when seasonal conditions were better.

partially Sourced from :

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Free Range Eggs in the News

There is a lot of discussion in Australia about the stocking rate for chooks for free range egg production.

The Australian last weekend ran an article on a producer in the Hunter Valley of NSW, and today an article appeared on the Queensland Country Life e-mail news [ ]

The question is should it be 300, 500, 1500 or 20000 per hectare?

Both articles offer a point of view........but the bottom line is much can you afford to pay for your eggs?