Facial Eczema Monitoring

Facial eczema (FE) is a disease of ruminant animals that is caused by the toxin sporidesmin. This toxin is released by the spores of a fungus that grows on the dead litter at the base of pasture and causes damage to the liver and bile ducts when ingested.

This damage results in waste products of chlorophyll breakdown building up in the bloodstream causing the clinical symptoms that we see. For every animal that has clinical signs of FE there are many more that are being affected by subclinical FE and it is this group that contribute to the greatest production losses for farmers.

The fungus will produce spores when humidity is high and the minimum temperature of the grass is 12 degrees for at least two nights in a row. We typically see weather conditions like this from January to May, but this can vary from year to year.

All ruminants and Alpacas can be affected.

Clinical signs

  • Photosensitivity
  • Droopy ears and swollen eyes
  • Jaundice (yellow mucous membranes)
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Death in severe cases
  • Reduced fertility and fecundity (subclinical)
  • Ill thrifty lambs (subclinical)
  • Poor lamb growth rates (subclinical)
  • Reduced milk production in dairy cattle (subclinical)


Monitoring pasture spore counts allows you to know when prevention measures need to be started.

What can be done to prevent FE?

There are multiple different prevention methods that can be put in place.  These vary in terms of cost, time and staff required to implement them as well as length of protection they provide.

Some prevention methods include:

  • Zinc dosing – this can be done via several methods such as drenching, application of boluses, dosing the water supply and adding zinc to the feed. Take action when spore count gets to 20,000.
  • Fungicide sprays – these need to be applied before the risk period as they will not kill existing spores (before spore counts get over 20,000 and when grass is green and growing). If applied properly fungicide sprays can provide protection for 4-6 weeks.
  • Breeding for tolerance – FE tolerance is known to be very heritable in sheep and cattle. Using rams that have been bred for FE tolerance traits can help increase the tolerance of your flock.
  • Grazing management – such as not grazing animals on pasture that is a greater risk of high spore counts such as sheltered flat paddocks. Light rotational grazing strategies and replacing affected pasture with grass types that do not support growth of the fungus.

We recommend that you consult with a veterinarian to figure out a prevention plan that best suits the needs of your farm and business. Similarly, if you suspect your animals have facial eczema contact your vet to discuss treatment options.

If you require any more information give us a ring on 06 377 0464

How to collect a pasture sample for spore counting:

  1. Select a paddock that you wish to monitor. We suggest you monitor four paddocks for a farm, one paddock in a lifestyle block.
  2. Cut a handful of grass with scissors or a knife, at 1cm above the ground level. Place the sample in a clean plastic or paper bag.
  3. Repeat procedure at least 10 times, from random areas at least 10 metres apart in the paddock. Avoid only sampling parts of the paddock sheltered by trees and hedges and contaminating sample with soil and roots.
  4. We need 100g of grass (one bread bag full) per monitoring site.
  5. Store in the fridge until taken to clinic.
  6. Repeat sampling weekly in the same paddock, take samples on the same path across the paddock.

Enquire About this Service:

Please correct the errors above and try again.