The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently released a workbook entitled Biosecurity in Practice. Designed for veterinarians, it includes recommended actions for livestock producers that would ensure biosecurity on their farms. For livestock operations, the three pillars of biosecurity are access management, animal health management and operational management.
Access management is basically controlling who can be on your farm, where they go and on what terms they visit. Because disease likes to take a free ride, it is important to address people, animals, equipment and vehicles that enter your property. It may be as simple as putting a fence in place to ensure folks do not walk right into the chicken coop uninvited, or a little signage that encourages visitors to please come by the house or office before having a look around. In most intensive livestock operations, access is tightly limited or strictly forbidden because of the disease risk, and disinfecting or changing may be required. In most cattle operations, a little common sense helps protect both the livestock and the owner.
Handling sick and new animals is also important on any size of operation. And although we seldom think about a quarantine area on the farm it is a good practice. Research has repeatedly proven that commingling immune-exposed and immune-naive cattle leads to respiratory and other diseases. If the farm has a quarantine area where new stock can be isolated from the rest of the herd for a period of adjustment time, this can prove beneficial to both the new and resident stock.
The sick pen
Just as important is a separate area for sick animals. In feedlots, the sick pen is standard. Moving cattle to the sick pen could come after observation or treatment and may be a short-or long-term stay. Those that just simply do not get well or cannot compete will go to a sick pen for long-term residency, like palliative care. Those that fully recover and can be competitive at the bunk will return to their home pen.
In all cases, a careful record of treatment is retained. On the ranch there has been a habit of treat and return. This could be costly in terms of exposing other animals to a health risk and to the treated animal itself. Observation is key to recovery and a correct diagnosis of the problem. For example: dark, watery feces accompanying respiratory distress is not simple BRD and the animal is highly likely to be contagious. Implementing a system that separates the sick, even baby calves and their mothers, helps with rapid diagnosis and recovery.
As 70 per cent of the world s diseases are zoonotic in nature, meaning they can transfer from animal to human or human to animal, it is imperative that each farm have a disease-response plan. This plan is something to work on with your veterinarian to ensure the safety and security of the human and livestock residents. In the case of a foot-and-mouth outbreak in your area, what would you do? What biosecurity measures would need to be in place to ensure that your herd was not exposed? And if the herd was exposed, how could further spread of the disease be mitigated or prevented?
These are important questions in a world where we are just one traveller away from a potential outbreak.
When things do go wrong there is often a carcass in need of disposal. And although provinces and municipalities have their own regulations, we are reminded that disposal in a timely manner, under 48 hours, is preferred whether that be by burial, incineration, composting or rendering. There are a host of regulations around burying, burning or composting and these are available on the Alberta Agriculture website. Natural disposal or the consumption of a carcass by scavengers is also acceptable if the animal was not treated (scavengers tend not to eat treated cattle), euthanized or if you suspect the disease is reportable in nature.
Every biosecurity plan must deal with manure and there is a strong emphasis on cleaning equipment, vehicles and buildings and that includes the cab of the tractor! It seems tedious but manure is manure and there have been incidences of cross-contamination to humans, between feeding areas or even farms. Sharing equipment without a good washing is risky. And although using a disinfectant is recommended, remember that disinfectants can be environmental pollutants and toxic to cattle.
Of course, a farm has more residents than people and livestock. There are also pets and pests, both of which can become transporters of disease. We can t see the bacteria and often do not see our bad habits. A hug to a dog that has just rolled in the manure is common. A few barn cats are a pleasure, while a few too many pose a health hazard to all farm residents, and the squirrel that just took up residency in the shop attic is storing future problems.
Although the term biosecurity has never really been defined, the AVMA includes precautions to reduce the risk of disease exposure, preventing the introduction of infectious disease and minimizing the risk of the transmission of disease as the definition. It is really a multitude of little things and the implementation of standard operating procedures that ensure the safety and security of people and animals on your farm.
BrendaSchoeppisamarketanalystandtheownerandauthorofBeeflink,anationalbeefcattlemarketnewsletter.Aprofessionalspeakerandindustrymarketandresearchconsultant,sheranchesnearRimbey,Alberta. [email protected]