Happily TB-free in the Hokonui Hills

Date 28 February 2019

Kelvin and Gillian Brock’s jersey-cross cows are full of milk and grazing happily with a view out to the rolling Hokonui Hills in central Southland.

“This couldn’t have happened 30 years ago,” says Dunsdale dairy farmer Kelvin looking over the rolling 270 (230 effective) hectares in Dunsdale Valley, half an hour from Gore. “Those Hokonuis were riddled with TB-infected possums, stumbling out of the bush like a bunch of drunks.”

Now, after years of ground and aerial possum control, the Hokonui Hills and surrounding farmland is a showcase for the success of the TB eradication programme. As one region where OSPRI’s TB testing requirements change from 1 March, TB testing frequency is reducing in line with a lessening risk of infection.

Test reductions across 27,000 hectares of the Hokonui Hills affect 40 herds and mean that 2800 fewer tests are needed.

The change in frequency – from annual testing to once every two years – reflects the falling risk but ensures that adequate surveillance continues since the area was declared free of TB-infected possums in June 2017. It was an important area to clear and contributed to the 2.02 million hectares cleared nationally over the past nine years.

The rolling pasture of the Brock farm carries 630 cows. The land is striped with gullies of native bush, left over from when the land was broken in about 1980, and the occasional possum is still seen. “But they’re TB-free ones, we hope,” Kelvin says.

Kelvin used to run Romney-Coopworth sheep for the first years of farming here. Not until 20 years later – when TB infections in the area were brought under control – could Kelvin consider making the expensive conversion to dairy.

As a lifelong Southland shearer, Kelvin had made three shearing-gang trips to Sardinia to supplement the capital required to buy the farm. With four children now grown and gone, he and Gillian are able to continue developing the land and the buildings.  

They built a 54-bale rotary milking shed and extended lanes to create a really productive property, and they graze 160 R2s and 140 R1s at a nearby run-off.

“TB testing has always been manageable for us – we get the whole herd through the shed every day, so it’s seamless during the day-to-day running of the farm. And the reassurance that the herd is clear is well worth the trouble,” Kelvin says. “But being able to shift stock off the farm without having to test – as we did when this was a Movement Control Area – that saves a lot of time.”

With the large investment of farmers’ funds in TB eradication programme showing real results, this is no time to let our guard down, says Kelvin. “It will be good to see the back of bovine TB.”  

:: To find out about any changes to your disease control area’s status, please see www.ospri.co.nz/dcamap

Kelvin Brock Hokonui web2

'This couldn't have happened 30 years ago,' says Dunsdale dairy farmer Kelvin Brock, whose jersey-cross cows graze within cooee of the Hokonui Hills, one a hotspot for bovine TB.