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Bio-Security on Your Farm Continues to be Important

By Samantha Gehrett

In the era of Covid-19, understanding and learning from past mistakes about disease spread is now more critical than ever. While COVID 19 wasn't a farm animal disease outbreak, the lessons learned can help to advance agriculture and biosecurity knowledge. Biosecurity means doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles.


Understanding the importance of biosecurity can help you to do your part in the fight against an animal disease outbreak in order to keep your business secure. A good biosecurity program should include procedures for controlling access of outside vendors and visitors to the farm and for the purchase of new animals, in addition to sound animal health and management practices to stop any spread of disease. All farms in the United States should have clear management practices for biosecurity measures to help to stop the spread of disease.

Procedures in place that control access of outside vendors and visitors is a first step in minimizing the risk of bringing diseases into your operation. Farm visitors include neighbors, friends, AI technicians, veterinarians, feed industry personnel, supply sales and service representatives, equipment repair individuals, agency personnel, inspectors, mortality collectors, and custom manure haulers and applicators. (Martin, 2011) All visitors to your farm should practice good biosecurity procedures. When you or your employees visit other farms, the sales barn, or feed mill, you should practice the same biosecurity you expect your visitors to practice. Such practices include but are not limited to wearing only clean clothing and boots on your farm.  You may want to consider providing disposable coveralls and boots for visitors and provide footbaths or disinfectant containers at the entrance to each animal housing area on your farm. All organic matter should be removed from footwear before it goes into a footbath, and the solution needs to be replenished 'regularly.' (Martin, 2011)  All visitors should come to your farm with clean boots and or covers for their shoes. For a more detailed list of biosecurity protocols for visitors see this online document.

A second step in a good biosecurity program includes good practices for purchasing and introducing new animals to your herd. Decreasing the number of animals purchased and the herds from which the animals are purchased can help to reduce the risk of introduction of infectious agents. If you are purchasing the animals, where are they coming from and what health backgrounds do they have? Working with your veterinarian to determine testing strategies prior to purchasing animals can help to limit the introduction of disease into your herd. Perhaps the "new" animals are the heifers that are returning from a grower? Again, having a sound management plan developed with your veterinarian about how these animals are handled when returning can help to mitigate disease risk. Additionally, remember that show animals that come home from the shows could also be a biosecurity threat. Develop good management practices for show cattle such as properly disposing of leftover bedding, feed, and hay at the event facility or at an appropriate off-farm site before returning home. Keep livestock show animals isolated from other animals on your farm. Feed, water, and tend to animals in isolation after caring for other animals on your farm to avoid any possible cross-contamination to other animals.

Isolated or quarantined animals should be monitored frequently for ailments or irregular behavior and should be assessed for significant diseases before mixing with other animals. Implementing proactive processes will help in reducing the risk of disease on a farm. Disease monitoring is a critical component in this step. Signs of disease could include lower feed intake, weight loss, decreased activity, lameness, difficulty breathing, deep coughing, eye or nasal discharge, bloody diarrhea, depression and/or abortion.

There are several challenges of purchasing animals from an auction.  These animals have likely been exposed to lots of other animals (and especially respiratory pathogens) before you get them to the farm, and they have also very likely been "stressed" by the whole affair. Additionally, they don't come with a vaccination history or testing for potential mastitis organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus or Mycoplasma that can create problems.

One example of a disease, that can have devastating economic consequences on cattle operations is Johne's Disease. This disease is a contagious, chronic, and usually fatal infection that affects primarily the small intestine of ruminants. Based on the 2007 Dairy NAHMS study, about 68 percent of U.S. dairy herds had at least one positive environmental sample for Johne's. The percent of herds with at least 1 cow positive is likely quite a bit higher than this since environmental sampling will miss some herds with a low prevalence of infection. (1) Signs are rarely evident until two or more years after the initial infection, which usually occurs shortly after birth, making Johne’s disease more difficult to control. Additionally, there are not tests to accurately diagnose infected animals until they are quite far along in disease progression.

The third step in good biosecurity is working with your veterinarian to develop an overall biosecurity plan for your farm. Young calves are especially susceptible to disease. Calves are born and raised in a wide variety of environments and housing conditions, all of which affect the risk of neonatal enteric infectious disease such as calf diarrhea. Diarrhea is the most important disease of neonatal calves and results in the greatest economic loss due to disease in this age group in both dairy and beef operations. The most common pathogens of concern include Escherichia coli (E. coli) spp., rotavirus, coronavirus, cryptosporidia, coccidia, and Salmonella spp (2). Vermin such as flies and rodents can transport parasitic worm eggs from manure to feed or transmit enteric diseases such as salmonellosis and shigellosis. Your veterinarian can help with standard operating procedures for maintaining a good on-farm environment for these young animals as well as any needed vaccinations and health concerns.  Vaccinations play a critical part in a farm's biosecurity plan. Vaccinations help provide protection against diseases. All farms should have an established relationship with a veterinarian. Vaccination and deworming schedules should be created and followed meticulously. Proper records of treatments and vaccinations should be maintained. This ultimately will help your herd maintain protection from harmful diseases.

In closing, understanding the key aspects of livestock biosecurity can help keep your operation secure. An overall farm biosecurity plan, developed in consultation with your veterinarian for sound on-farm animal health care, procedures for introducing new animals and safe practices for visitors and vendors should all be part of a good plan. Biosecurity provides confidence in agricultural products, market share, and economy. It's important to reduce and prevent the introduction of animal diseases to your farm. Biosecurity starts with you!

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