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Farm Emergency Plans and Biosecurity: Personal Experiences With Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)

Farm Emergency Plans and Biosecurity: Personal Experiences With Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)

By J. Craig Williams

There are many ways to improve a farm’s readiness for an emergency, including a biosecurity emergency. We all have different experiences; we always think it will not happen to our farm. Unfortunately, many farms experience some type of farm emergency during their lifetime. No one likes to think about a farm emergency or disaster, but effective planning will help an entire farm team weather the unexpected challenges much better.

To help plan ahead and be prepared for an emergency, there are several industry fact sheets and checklists available which are highlighted below.

The following comments are based on my personal experience dealing with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware in 2022. Here are some ideas on how a farm can be better equipped to survive an emergency. 

1. Can you use existing plans to get started?

Many farm commodity or livestock groups provide sample biosecurity plans to assist in developing more specific emergency plans for an individual farm. These sample plans serve as checklists to help gather the right information for the farm, all in one place. Here are a few helpful resources:

Complete Whole Farm Ready Ag Workbook 

North Carolina Farm Emergency Workbook

Michigan Agriculture Emergency Workbook

The industry groups, Penn State Extension, or the State Department of Agriculture are available to help with these plans.

Once we are already in a state of emergency, there are usually several things that can make a plan work better.

2. Can the farm run without you? Who will do your specific chores? Who will pay the bills? Who will be able to find your files?

This is an example of how someone else on the farm can complete the jobs that you typically do.  For example, I have seen situations during HPAI events when the farm owner was busy dealing with the emergency and was not able to complete normal farm activities. This is not always the case, but it is a reminder of how one event can take you away from the farm. Simply knowing that someone will be able to continue to pay bills or order feed or do milking chores is critical for short-term situations. For longer term absences, it may be as extensive as needing someone else to plant the corn while you are dealing with the farm emergency. It could be a major need if you are taken away from the farm for several months.

3. Can you close off the driveway?

Can your farm quickly set up a farm lane gate to close off the farm lane to visitors. With HPAI, we have seen that the affected farm often has their lane shut off. Then related farms also monitor their farm traffic very closely. It is helpful to have the ability to close an entrance gate to the farm, if needed. For farms that end up inside a protected monitoring zone, if they are able to put a gate across their farm lane, it demonstrates that the farm is not open for extra visitors. It also raises the biosecurity awareness for any routine farm industry visitors. 

4. Can you make a new farm lane entrance?

Having multiple species of animals on the same farm operation with one farm entrance may cause issues with separation or quarantine. For example, some farms have poultry and dairy animals on the same farm. The farm might be forced to develop an entire new farm lane to service the dairy while the poultry farm is shut off from the original farm lane. This can be a tremendous help to keep the farm running. Having a second farm entrance where feed can enter and milk or beef can exit is critical to keep the operation from being shut down by the emergency. 

5. Are you practicing good biosecurity on your farm?

Always use good biosecurity on your farm. Wash boots between farms or, even better, leave boots at each farm. Think about washing boots before going to the younger animals on the farm, and do not track dirty equipment into the feed areas.

Penn State Extension ag safety engineer Dave Hill said before, "Farmers should develop a farm emergency plan and then share that plan with their local fire company."

Farm emergency plans can be extensive, or they can be as simple as a list of contacts, farm information, labeled photos, and phone number all in one place. It is much more difficult and stressful to find information during the emergency. Having a farm emergency plan in place and having all the critical information readily available can be a great help. Use the resources available to you and be ready to thrive even when challenges come your way.

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