Farm biosecurity protects the health of your cattle herd by preventing the introduction and transmission of disease agents to your farm. Endemic diseases, those diseases native to U.S. cattle, can be an economic drain on cow herds if not managed properly. Taking common sense precautions to minimize the risk of diseases is the best investment you can make.
“Starting a biosecurity plan just takes some common sense,” says Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas Extension beef cattle specialist. “The first person to start with is your local veterinarian. Get him involved with your animal health program, make him familiar with how you manage cattle, move cattle in and out, and buy cattle so he can help set up a biosecurity plan for your farm.”
Ron Parker, head of Extension Animal Resources and a beef cattle specialist at New Mexico State University, says it's a mistake to utilize your veterinarian only in an emergency; a good working relationship is a necessity.
“I'd even suggest it would be well worth a producer's while to purchase a half hour of a vet's time and sit down and discuss what needs to be included in your biosecurity and herd health programs,” he adds.
A successful biosecurity plan should cover three main areas — isolation, traffic control and sanitation.
The most important step in disease control is minimizing commingling and movement of cattle. This is especially important for new animals arriving on the farm, such as replacement heifers, or animals returning from fairs and shows where they may have had contact with other cattle. Even commingling between established groups of cattle on the farm and in feedlots should be minimized.
“When you purchase new cattle and bring them to the farm, we recommend you leave them isolated for a period of time to monitor their health before turning them out with the rest of the herd,” Troxel says. “Your veterinarian can help you determine how long that time should be and the precautions you should take with the new animals.”
Isolating and treating sick cattle away from the rest of the herd can also minimize the spread of infectious disease.
Wildlife and pets can also be a cause for concern to animals' health. It's important to control on-farm rodent populations that can carry diseases like leptospirosis, which cause abortions. Keep wild animals, including rodents, birds, skunks and raccoons, away from food storage areas and feed bunks to prevent contamination of cattle feed sources.
“It's also critical for every operation to control pet movements,” Parker says. “There are certain diseases that can be carried by dogs; keeping them away from feed bunks can minimize disease risk.”
Consider points where diseases could enter a farm or ranch and the pathways by which disease is spread. This is especially important on smaller, more confined operations and feedlots where traffic is coming and going in different directions.
“Restrict people to only where they have to be and control their access to other areas,” Parker says.
If visitors are touring your operation, consider their previous stops. Be aware of foreign visitors and ban footwear, clothing and other products from foreign countries on the farm.
“It's wise to have a package of disposable boots there for visitors to wear,” Parker adds. “Disposable boots are a better choice than footbaths because they are much simpler to use and more sanitary. If shoes carry a lot of dirt and manure, the disinfectant in a footbath doesn't eliminate pathogens or other microbials.”
Troxel adds monitoring suspicious traffic around the farm. Unfamiliar vehicles that frequently drive down the road slowly, should be reported to the sheriff.
“Rural folks are good about watching out for their neighbors; they know who should and shouldn't be on the property. If you notice something unusual, report it,” he says.
The sanitation component of a biosecurity plan is aimed at preventing contamination of cattle and equipment. For example, Parker says a front-end loader shouldn't be used to haul manure or transport a dead animal and then used to mix feed without first being sanitized.
Troxel adds that loaning equipment to neighbors is neighborly, but have a plan to disinfect the equipment when it's returned.
“Be concerned about cleaning the stock trailer when you get it back, or any other equipment you might loan to your neighbor,” he says. “You may even clean it before letting it be borrowed.”
Weigh costs, risks
With today's freer movement of cattle around the U.S. and abroad, it pays to be aware of what's coming and going from your operation.
“These are just a few things producers can do very easily to start putting together a farm biosecurity plan,” Troxel says. “We can't let our guard down. It's a different day and time, and we've got to think about some of the things that we used to take for granted and think about those again.”
But, Parker also cautions producers to use logic in developing their biosecurity protocols.
“It is a balancing act with risk on one side and cost on the other. You'd like to be able to hold the cost down while also holding down the risk. That probably isn't going to happen,” he says. “We have to weigh the costs against the risks, and use common sense in developing our programs.”
Keep the following items in mind in implementing a biosecurity program:
Watch for signs of disease like coughing, weight loss, runny nose and eyes, difficulty breathing, abortions, stillbirths and other reproductive abnormalities.
Watch for sores and blisters around mouth, nose, teats and hooves.
Report unexplained death loss or illness affecting a high percentage of your herd.
Don't transport animals with contagious illnesses.
Properly dispose of dead animals.
Keep new animals isolated from the herd and observe for disease.
Isolate animals that have been off the farm and in contact with other cattle.
Minimize access routes to your operation by locking gates or obstructing alternative entry sites.
Keep a visitor log.
Require visitors to use footbaths or disposable plastic boots on the farm.
Be aware of foreign visitors and ban footwear, clothing and other products from foreign countries on the farm.
Vehicles and equipment:
Minimize vehicular traffic through livestock and feeding areas.
Don't contaminate feedstuffs with manure.
Clean and disinfect equipment used for manure hauling or dead animal removal before using it to handle feed.
Environmental and pest control:
- Keep ground and feedbunks dry.
- Control insects and birds.
- Control rodents around feed.
Sources: New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service and University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
How do you shape up?
Biosecurity management practices are designed to reduce or prevent the introduction and movement of infectious diseases on cattle operations. The following quiz can help you determine which areas of your operation may be vulnerable. Then ask your veterinarian for help in designing a program to protect your herd from diseases.
- Do you know which animal diseases should be in your biosecurity plan?
- Do you always isolate sick animals?
- Do you isolate new or returning animals for three weeks before exposing them to the herd?
- Do you separate livestock by age and/or production groups?
- Do you limit visitor access to barns and lots?
- Do you demand that visitors wear clean boots and coveralls?
- Do you provide disposable boots and coveralls for visitors?
- Do you disinfect your stock trailer?
- Do you loan your truck, stock trailer, etc., to other producers?
- Do you follow Beef Quality Assurance guidelines?
- Do you attempt to control rodents?
- Do you have deer-proof fences?
- Do you conduct a postmortem exam on every unexpected animal death?
- Do you watch for blistering around an animal's mouth, nose, teats and hooves?
- Do you prescreen newly purchased animals for diseases?
- Do you vaccinate livestock prior to additional stress (weaning, shipping, etc.)?
- Do you report to the county sheriff any suspicious visitors or vandalism detected on the farm?
- Do you monitor your tanks (fuel and bulk tanks) for siphoning or stealing?
- Do you have a farm biosecurity plan?
- Do you ask if visitors have been on another farm before they visit your facility?
- Do you allow anybody who has arrived in the U.S. within the last seven days on your farm?
- Do you allow off-farm vehicles (4-wheelers, etc.) to drive through your animal housing units or farm?
- Do you work with your veterinarian on a biosecurity plan for your farm?
For a complete list of questions, visit www.uaex.edu/biosecurity/producer/farm_plan/farm.asp.
Source: University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service