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South Waikato Veterinary Services


Facial Eczema

Facial eczema is a disease affecting the liver. It occurs when cattle ingest the spores of the fungi Pithomyces chartarum. This fungi contains a compound called sporidesmin, which is toxic to the liver and causes extensive liver damage. When the cows then ingest grass, the normal by-products of grass breakdown are not excreted properly by the damaged liver. These by-products then accumulate in the skin where they are then exposed to sunlight, causing a severe sunburn.

The severe sunburn causes major discomfort. Animals seek shade and reduce their time grazing, resulting in poor growth and loss of condition. Lactating animals will have a drop in milk production, and may even dry off.

In severe cases, extensive damage to the liver will cause liver failure and result in death of the animal. Other severely affected animals may die from the skin burns. Most affected animals do survive, but will suffer production losses that season, and in further seasons.

How will I know my animals have facial eczema?

Soon after ingestion of the fungal spores, a decline in appetite may be noticeable, and a sharp fall in milk yield may be present in lactating animals. These initial signs are subclinical (you will not actually see them happen), and many animals stay in this subclinical phase, ultimately showing losses in production.

Some animals become clinically affected. The clinical signs of photosensitisation (skin sensitive to the sun) occur 10-14 days after ingestion of the spores, and may include:

  1. Restlessness eg. Tail flicking, kicking off cups

  2. Seeking shade

  3. Licking or rubbing of photosensitive areas

  4. Loss of condition

  5. Bright red discolouration of hairless and pink coloured skin – especially on the udder, white patches on the back, nose, around ears & eyes, and inner legs

  6. As the photosensitisation develops, skin crusting and peeling will be visible – large sheets of skin may completely fall off.

It is estimated that for every cow in the herd that you see affected, there are about 4 or 5 cows that are affected subclinically, resulting in considerable production losses. Often these subclinical animals survive many episodes of facial eczema until a significant stress (such as calving), causes full scale facial eczema, resulting in a downer status, or chronic wasting and probable death.

What are the risk factors on my farm?

The fungus grows and produces spores in high humidity and warm temperatures, notably in late summer and autumn (January to May). The highest risk periods occur when there has been more than 4mm of rainfall in 48 hours, and  ground temperatures are kept above 12°C for several consecutive nights. The fungus grows on the dead part of the grass, towards the root – this is why pasture cover and quality is important in helping to prevent this disease. Perennial ryegrass pasture is most at risk to fungus growth due to its ability to produce dead plant material.

How can I prevent Facial Eczema occurring?

It is worth implementing preventative measures early, before the high-risk periods occur. These measures may include:

  1. Pasture spore counts - These will predict danger periods on your farm, as well as inform you of high risk pastures. We can perform this here in the clinic.

  2. Maintain pasture quality - Prevent the build-up of dead plant material in the pasture. Avoid pasture topping.

  3. Avoid hard grazing - The fungus grows on the bottom of the grass sward, so hard grazing forces stock to ingest large amounts of spores.

  4. Provide alternative feeds such as silage, maize and hay during the danger periods

  5. Spray pastures with a fungicide such as Topsin®, Protek® or Mycotak®. Correctly sprayed pastures may remain safe for up to 4-6 weeks.

  6. Dose stock with zinc. Zinc decreases the effects of the toxic spores. Zinc treatment should start 2-3 weeks before the high risk periods.  Zinc is a preventative only, NOT a cure to be given AFTER your cows or calves develop Facial Eczema.

Treatment options with Zinc include:

  1. BulletZnSO4 (zinc sulphate) can be added to water in dispensers.  Levels of Zinc should be built up slowly to avoid toxicity.

  2. BulletZnO (zinc oxide) drench. This can be long-term drenching, or drenching during the danger periods only.

  3. BulletZnO in concentrate feed

  4. BulletZinc intra-ruminal bolus – Faceguard®. This capsule slowly releases Zinc over 6 weeks, maintaining protective levels.

Breeding stock for resistance against facial eczema by selecting tolerant bulls can be a long-term prevention method.

Calf scoursCalf_Scours.html
non cyclersNon_Cyclers.html
pink eyePink_Eye.html
Facial Eczema
Downer cowsDowner_Cows.html
Clostridial DiseasesClostridial_Diseases.html
Trace elementsTrace_Elements.html
mineral supplementsMineral_Supplements.html
Vitamin B1 DeficiencyVitamin_B1_Def.html


They are on the left

facial eczema handouts below
Zinc Sulfate Dose RatesFacial_Eczema_files/Zinc%20Sulphate%20Dose%20Rates%20rotated.pdf
Facial eczema 2015Facial_Eczema_files/Facial%20Eczema%202015.pdf
How to Spore CountFacial_Eczema_files/FE%20spore%20counting%20info%202015.pdf
Zinc Oxide Dose RAtesFacial_Eczema_files/Zinc%20Oxide%20Dose%20Rates%20rotated.pdf
FaceGuard Info 2015Facial_Eczema_files/Faceguard%20Info%202014%20-%202015%20rotated.pdf
Faceguard Handout Page 1Facial_Eczema_files/Face-Guard%20Info%20Page%201%20rotated.pdf
Faceguard Handout Page 2Facial_Eczema_files/Face-Guard%20Info%20Page%202%20rotated.pdf

Click to open files