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Facial eczema is a liver disease caused by a fungal toxin in perennial ryegrass pastures. This page contains information about the causes and symptoms of facial eczema.

Facial eczema monitoring

Facial eczema is a liver disease caused by a fungal toxin in perennial ryegrass pastures.

Given the right seasonal conditions, the fungus multiplies and produces a toxin that is ingested by grazing animals. The toxin causes a dramatic fall in milk production, metabolic disturbances and photosensitization of exposed skin, with severe pain. Animals that survive facial eczema often suffer permanent liver damage, never fully recover and require culling.

Spore counting

Spore counting on sentinel farms across Gippsland commences in January each year. If spore counts rise to dangerous levels, Dairy Australia will issue an alert to dairy farmers in the affected regions to monitor their own pasture spore counts and/or commence feeding of zinc oxide supplements to their milking herds. Other classes of livestock are also at risk and access to high spore count pastures may need to be restricted.

Facial eczema not only affects milking cows: heifers, calves, dry stock, bulls and sheep that are not supplemented with zinc are at risk of Facial Eczema when pasture spore counts are high.

In very high risk periods consider:

  • Not allowing these animals to graze pasture short - even if it means leaving long residuals.
  • Supplementing stock with hay or silage to reduce pasture intake.
  • In more extreme situations, twice weekly drenching with zinc oxide is an option.

Watch this webinar Preventing facial eczema outbreaks to learn more about preventing Facial Eczema.

APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) regulatory framework

A number of changes to the Agvet Code Regulations commenced on 5th March 2015 to exclude certain types of animal feed for both stock and companion animals from the scope of the DairyAustralia 's regulation.

More information

APVMA regulation of low risk chemicals (PDF, 197KB)

Download this diagram outlining the new regulatory framework.

APVMA website (external website)

A Review of Facial Eczema (Pithomycotoxicosis) - Report of the Dairy Australia Facial Eczema Working Group (updated 2013) (PDF, 2.2MB)

Dairy Australia formed a Facial Eczema Working Group with two specific objectives:

  • Review FE in dairy cattle, covering the disease, risk factors, and control and prevention strategies in the Australian context, and produce a report to serve as the basis for extension information.
  • Generate a number of recommendations to industry in relation to Australian FE research and development, field surveillance programs, and control and prevention strategies.

Preventing facial eczema in milking cows using zinc oxide in feed (PDF, 231KB)

Zinc is protective against facial eczema. It prevents cell damage by forming an inactive complex with the toxin sporidesmin. It also inhibits intestinal absorption of copper which catalyses formation of the oxygen free radicals that cause the cell damage. Zinc supplements can be effective for facial eczema control and prevention if well managed. This fact sheet includes a checklist for zinc oxide supplementation in feed.


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