Dairy Risk Assessment Tool

The Dairy Risk Assessment Tool


The Dairy Risk Assessment Tool


 

 

 

The Dairy Risk Assessment Tool is an online questionnaire that identifies the level of Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) risk on individual farms at the time of assessment, and supports the collection of data about the spread of the disease.

The tool is designed to be used by veterinarians, who complete the questionnaire with, and on behalf of a farmer during an on-farm biosecurity risk consultation session.

A built-in scoring system assesses the level of risk of M. bovis on the farm at the time, and produces a total score. The total score determines what action is recommended, if any.

Overall, gathered anonymised data are used to analyse, assess, and help control the spread of this disease and to inform management programmes.

Farmers: Contact your veterinarian if you would like a Dairy Risk Assessment.

Veterinarians: To find out more and register to use the DRA tool, go to: veterinarian-only info. If you are not a member of the NZVA, you will need to be manually registered. To register, please call the NZVA on 04 471 0484 during work hours. Please note that NZVA members get priority so there will be a delay of one to five working days to register non-members depending on demand at the time. Registration is free.

When you are registered, you will be able to access:

  • Dairy Risk Assessment tool
  • Veterinarians' user guide
  • FAQs for veterinarians
  • Disclaimer form (pdf for you to print for client and veterinarian to sign, to be kept for your clinical records)

For troubleshooting or queries about the tool, please call the NZVA on 04 471 0484

To send feedback about the tool or the process, please email nzva@vets.org.nz.

 

Frequently asked questions

The Dairy Risk Assessment (DRA) tool is an online platform to help veterinarians and farmers understand, measure, mitigate, and manage the risks associated with Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis).

If used correctly, the DRA tool is an effective way of assessing on-farm M. bovis risk. It also adds value to a farming business through using veterinary expertise and advice to enhance animal health. Specifically, the tool helps veterinarians to work closely with individual dairy farmers so they can understand, quantify, mitigate, and manage risks associated with M. bovis on their farm. The DRA is informative, affordable and it's also faster and safer to carry out than surface-swabbing individual animals, which is required for laboratory testing. Individual negative (or not detected) test results are of limited value in understanding a herd's true M. bovis infection status.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is leading the eradication programme for M. bovis and, along with the support of farmer sector bodies, has made significant progress towards this goal. For the latest information on the programme read the most recent situation report on the MPI website.

A successful eradication programme relies on preventing the disease from spreading. By using the DRA tool in consultation with dairy farm operators, veterinarians are able to identify practices that may either introduce or increase the risk of spread of M. bovis and other diseases. The veterinarian can then give advice on how to avoid high-risk practices, to reduce the spread or introduction of the disease.

Understanding risk is essential to change management practices to combat M. bovis. It is through a change in the risk level of practices (adoption of low-risk approaches and the avoidance of high-risk practices) that will give the eradication programme the best chance of meeting its goal.

Understanding disease risk has relevance beyond M. bovis, and will assist the dairy industry to be more resilient and better equipped to meet other on-farm biosecurity challenges in the future.

The NZVA does not support the use of commercial testing (PCR and ELISA) for individual animals because of limitations that the NZVA considers are not sufficiently understood by end-users - that is:

  • Testing on an individual animal cannot reliably determine infection status in that animal.
  • Any test may result in false positive results from an animal that is not infected.
  • Any test may result in false negative results from an animal that is infected.
  • Interpretation of ELISA results can be difficult due to a lack of understanding of when seroconversion (the time at which exposure to the disease can be detected via antibody in the blood) occurs, and also due to a lack of understanding of antibody persistence which makes interpretation difficult.

The NZVA considers that access to commercial testing should be limited to herd-level testing in circumstances where there is reasonable benefit, such as:

  • when a herd risk assessment identifies high-risk activities; and/or
  • when undertaking large transactions (for example, herd sales; ascertaining herd of origin status before buying service bulls).

NZVA Position statement: Commercial testing for M. bovis

A veterinarian uses the tool as part of an in-depth confidential consultation with a dairy farm owner/manager. During the consultation, farm management practices known to be a biosecurity risk are discussed and the veterinarian completes and submits an online questionnaire based on the responses given by the farm owner/manager.

The tool then generates an overall risk score, which is an estimate of the risk of M. bovis for the farm being assessed, and assigns a risk assessment level, which can be either 'low', 'moderate', or 'high'. It also indicates recommended action (if any), which is included in a report emailed to the veterinarian, who uses this information to advise their client on best-practice farm biosecurity or steps that would help to reduce biosecurity risk.

The scores are allocated based on assumed risk and weighted accordingly. These are semi-quantitative, based on an empirical understanding of M. bovis transmission and epidemiology during the current New Zealand incursion.

These are based on information about known transmission outcomes and risks, including the findings of MPI and Technical Advisory Group (TAG) reports into the epidemiology and risk of M. bovis transmission in New Zealand.

A low-risk score means farm management practices are not putting stock at undue risk of M. bovis exposure. It is not possible to have 'zero risk' but farmers with this low level of risk are doing a lot of things well.

A moderate-risk score means some farm management practices are putting stock at risk of exposure to M. bovis. A veterinarian can identify moderate-to-high risk practices and advise the client how to reduce the level of risk.

A high-risk score means some farm management practices are putting stock at significant undue risk of exposure to M. bovis. A veterinarian can identify high-risk practices and advise how to reduce the level of risk.

The vast majority of farmers are likely at low risk of their property either already being infected or becoming infected with M. bovis. The DRA is a useful tool to help reassure these farmers that their current farm may be at low risk, as well as highlighting some minor changes that they may need to make that could give them even greater reassurance. The uncertainty around the disease is often a significant stressor for farmers

The tool is designed to be used by veterinarians, who complete the online questionnaire with, and on behalf of a farmer during an on-farm biosecurity risk consultation session.

Dairy veterinarians have an in-depth understanding of farm systems and animal diseases. An understanding of both is required to make informed recommendations on changes that can be made to farm systems that are practical and will have a real impact on reducing disease risk.

The DRA tool is designed for use with dairy cattle. Developing a risk assessment for beef cattle is particularly challenging because of the unique nature of each operation. There is no risk assessment tool currently available for beef cattle.

The DRA questionnaire does include some questions about service bulls. However, the tool is designed for use in dairy herds not for service bulls. A risk assessment tool for service bulls may be available if required.

It was created by XLVets New Zealand, who came up with the idea and developed the software. XLVets is responsible for funding the development and delivery of the DRA tool. It is also responsible for ongoing maintenance, development requirements, and technical support.

The NZVA has entered into an agreement with XLVets to market and distribute the DRA to its members and others, and to provide user support primarily to its members, then to other users. The NZVA Board agreed to collaborate with XLVets because it supports the development of new, innovative ways for veterinarians to work with farmers to manage M. bovis risk and improve on-farm biosecurity. There was strong farmer (and therefore veterinary) demand for a useful and cost-effective tool to understand risk.

MPI was consulted early in the development discussions of the DRA tool and supported this approach. Veterinarians may notify MPI if extremely high-risk practices are identified that could mean M. bovis is present, which may result in an MPI M. bovis response. MPI may also be provided high-level, anonymised data from risk assessments in a way that does not identify individual farms, to help advance the national eradication programme.

The Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ) is not directly involved in the DRA tool but is distributing it on behalf of the NZVA to reach further into the veterinary and farming communities.

As a commercial product, the objective of the DRA tool is to meet the needs of the dairy sector by giving veterinarians a means to help farmers measure and mitigate biosecurity risk from M. bovis. The NZVA recommends that veterinarians charge the amount they deem appropriate for their services, including any associated costs for the DRA consultation or use of the DRA tool. Veterinarians will be charged for each completed assessment, which they will factor into the on-farm consultation charge. Other costs will depend on, for example, any related services, advice, or farm plans requested from the veterinarian. The charges directly associated with developing and distributing the DRA are shared between XLVets and NZVA for their respective roles.

The two main risk factors for the spread of the disease are raw milk distribution and stock movement. We recommend that you use the DRA tool before moving any cattle on or off your property, or distributing or receiving raw milk.

We recommend you use the tool before you buy a herd for spring so you can be confident of the level of risk any animals you purchase could be exposed to before you've made the decision to buy. Similarly, you should use the tool if you are considering leasing your farm to a new grazier, or taking on a new sharemilker. If you are a sharemilker, you can use this tool to assess the current risk of the farm you may intend to move to.

A 'closed herd' does not have an agreed definition, and means something different to nearly everyone asked! The DRA tool is applicable for all farms (even 'closed herds') because there are so many potential entry points for the disease into farming systems. There is no such thing as 'zero risk' - the DRA tool will help identify any areas where the risk of M. bovis is not as low as it could be.

The risk assessment is a snapshot in time, and is only valid until the farm management practices change (e.g. stock is moved, raw milk is purchased) or M. bovis test results are received.

A risk assessment should be conducted any time farm management practices change (e.g. stock is moved, grazing is changed, raw milk is purchased) or M. bovis test results are received. As a minimum, a risk assessment should be conducted annually.

Detection/confirmation of M. bovis requires laboratory testing of samples from animals. However, the current tests have limitations which mean they are not appropriate to use on all farms as a screening tool. Besides stock movement tracing, the risk assessment approach is currently the most appropriate method of determining the likelihood of M. bovis infection on a property. The DRA tool is the first step to help you decide if further action is needed.

Veterinarians have an in-depth understanding of farm systems and animal diseases. An understanding of both is required to make informed recommendations on changes you can make to your system that are both practical and will have a real impact on reducing disease risk on your farm.

It is important both veterinarian and client read, understand, and sign the disclaimer so that you each know your responsibilities and obligations when using the DRA tool and the risk assessment report.

The DRA tool does not require contact with or testing of animals. The DRA consultation involves your veterinarian completing an online questionnaire with you. Trials of the tool show that data is of better quality when gathered in consultation with a veterinarian.

Your veterinarian will need information on cattle numbers (all ages and classes); all stock movements; milk purchases; effluent management; any M. bovis testing; farm boundaries; and grazing properties. Ensure you have all this information readily available. Ensure your NAIT movements are up to date. If you are doing the DRA for a second or distant property, make sure you have as much information about animal movements as possible. Without all the information, your veterinarian will be unable to provide you with an accurate assessment. If you don't have all this information yourself, ensure all other relevant staff attend the consultation.

Most of the questions should be easily answerable by someone with day- to day knowledge of the farm in question. However, without all the information, your veterinarian cannot provide you with a risk assessment. Record what information is missing, and make another time for a consultation with your veterinarian.

As the tool is used in a consultation process, there is no contact with your animals. The information collected during the consultation may have some consequences for your farm, including referral to MPI (only in cases where disease is suspected). Any prospective business partners (e.g. share partners, equity partners, prospective buyers, graziers) may request your risk assessment results, to help them assess your business.

It is entirely up to you although we encourage all farmers to increase their biosecurity preparedness. With this in mind you may wish to let people in your professional network know about the process.

You should discuss costs with your veterinarian. The NZVA recommends that veterinarians charge the amount they deem appropriate for their services, including any associated costs for the DRA consultation or use of the DRA tool. Veterinarians will be charged for each completed assessment, which they will factor into the on-farm consultation charge.

A veterinarian will only be charged for the use of the tool once the questionnaire has been submitted. They may charge you for their time during the consultation - you will need to discuss this with them. If a questionnaire can't be completed due to technical issues, your veterinarian will contact the NZVA.

Commercial testing for M. bovis is expensive, and difficult both in terms of the procedure and the interpretation. For the most reliable results, a sufficient number of animals must be sampled from the correct site, at the right time. No test is perfect, and both the veterinarian and farmer must be prepared for false positive and false negative results. More information can be found on the MPI website. We recommend you use the DRA tool before any commercial testing takes place to assess the risk of disease, and use the assessment to inform your decision about testing.

All veterinarians receive sufficient education on animal diseases and general biosecurity as part of their veterinary degree. Veterinarians in their early career may not be as experienced in the practical aspects of some farm systems. However, you should have confidence in the technical knowledge of your veterinarian and be willing to offer guidance on what practical considerations are specific to your farm.

Results are emailed to the consulting veterinarian who can share and discuss them with you.

No. Once an assessment has been completed and a total score calculated, the results cannot be altered in any way or withdrawn. We recommend taking care to enter information correctly the first time.

After you've completed the questionnaire with your veterinarian they will discuss with you which of your farm practices are high risk, and discuss ways that you can reduce this risk. You are not obliged to put in place suggestions from your veterinarian - you will always get to decide what happens.

Veterinarians must operate in keeping with the Biosecurity Act 1993, which states ‘Every person is under a duty to inform the Ministry [for Primary Industries], as soon as practicable in the circumstances, of the presence of what appears to be an organism not normally seen or otherwise detected in New Zealand'. If during the course of providing an assessment a veterinarian believes a ‘new' disease (this includes M. bovis) is present on a farm, they must report it, regardless of the risk rating of your score.

Your veterinarian can help explain why you have been given a low-risk score. The practices you currently use are minimising the risk of M. bovis infection on your property, and you should continue to operate in this way. Avoid high-risk practices (e.g. stock movements and purchase of raw milk), and speak with your veterinarian before changing any farm practices.

The DRA tool specifically addresses high-risk practices for the spread of M. bovis. Many diseases are different in how they spread, so the practices that are high-risk for one disease may be low-risk for others (and vice versa). Speak with your veterinarian about what other diseases are relevant to your operation - your veterinarian can give you specific advice for each disease.

Absolutely! Veterinarians have detailed knowledge of animal diseases, and your farm system - meaning they can give practical advice you will be able to easily follow. Some general biosecurity principles are applicable to all diseases and pests that you may want to keep out of your farm. Ask your veterinarian to create a farm biosecurity plan as part of your DRA tool consultation. You can find out more about farm biosecurity from MPI and DairyNZ.

The sorts of actions that might be recommended by a veterinarian may include:

  • Changes in animal procurement (e.g. not purchasing from sale yards, undertaking of pre-purchase checklists, establishment of quarantine procedures, request of other DRA scores and other relevant test results).
  • Raw milk avoidance or pasteurisation/treatment.
  • Advice on farm boundaries.
  • Change in dry stock grazing practices (no mixing).
  • Design and implementation of an on-farm biosecurity plan.

Individual results will not be shared without the express, written consent of the farmer concerned, or if required by law (for example the Official Information Act, NAIT Act, Biosecurity Act or similar).

Your results could be notified to MPI if your veterinarian believes that M. bovis could be present on your property. This is because your veterinarian is legally required to notify MPI in this case, although they will discuss this with you. An official MPI M. bovis response may then follow. Release of client information is legal when it is done to maintain the law; as such, your veterinarian may be legally required to share DRA results with MPI.

Individual results will not be shared without the express, written consent of the farmer concerned, or if required by law (for example the Official Information Act, NAIT Act, Biosecurity Act or similar).

Your results could be notified to MPI if your veterinarian believes that M. bovis could be present on your property. This is because your veterinarian is legally required to notify MPI in this case, although they will discuss this with you. An official MPI M. bovis response may then follow. Release of client information is legal when it is done to maintain the law; as such, your veterinarian may be legally required to share DRA results with MPI.

If your veterinarian has reason to believe M. bovis is present on your property they are best placed to contact MPI in the first instance. They will discuss their M. bovis risk concerns with you also.

No direct costs will be incurred from getting a high-risk score. Your veterinarian may recommend some changes to your farm management practices, which could affect your on-farm costs.

If your results are of sufficient concern to require MPI notification, you may be eligible for compensation of costs related to an official M. bovis response. Find out more on the MPI website.

Culling will not be a recommendation from your veterinarian if you return a high-risk score. Any decision to cull will be made by MPI after due consideration as part of the eradication programme.

Other than being used to generate a risk assessment score and level, data collected is anonymised and aggregated with data from other DRA tool assessments to help inform management of the disease. High-level data trends may be shared with MPI but individual farms will not be identified.

The data is stored in Amazon Web Services (AWS) in their Relational Database Store (or RDS). The database engine is Aurora, Amazon's version of MySQL. The particular data centre is located in Sydney, Australia.

XLVets has taken precautions to ensure your data is as secure as possible. The web server is constantly updated with security patches, has live kernel patching in place and SilverStripe security updates are rolled out within days of them being released. By ensuring that these measures are in place, XLVets is confident that your data is safe.

In most circumstances, the tool will email a report to the consulting veterinarian within moments of information being submitted.

Authorised NZVA and XLVets staff can access some data for administration purposes, such as updating a veterinary clinic's contact details, but they can't identify individual farm data.