Biosecurity is a word that’s often associated with poultry and hog barns where fairly elaborate procedures have become second nature as part of the everyday routine. Now, talk of biosecurity is filtering down to feedlots and even cow-calf operations.
Biosecurity can mean different things to different people, says Kathryn Ross, animal program officer with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Animal Health Unit. Basically, it refers to practices put in place on farms to prevent infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that can be spread to other animals. Zoonotic diseases are spread from animals to people, or vice versa.
In that sense, you probably already have some biosecurity measures in place — vaccinating your animals, moving cows to clean calving grounds, keeping water bowls free of debris, wearing latex gloves when examining and treating animals, and washing your hands after working with cattle are a few common examples.
Consultations with 300 cow-calf producers and feedlots are underway across the country to get a baseline pulse on what beef producers are currently doing to control the spread of disease within their herds. The intention is to develop a National Voluntary Beef Biosecurity Standard. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) office of animal biosecurity and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association are leading the project.
Ross, who is an adviser to the project, says the standard will identify actions that pose risks to cattle herds and provide simple steps to reduce those risks.
The need for countries to develop livestock biosecurity standards was first raised in the “One World — One Health” strategy promoted by the World Organization for Animal Health. Once a standard is established it can be used to verify on-farm practices that contribute to a country’s animal health status for market access negotiations, promotion for individual herds or brands that adopt it, and enhance the positive image of Canada’s beef at home and abroad.
MOST AT RISK
At first glance, a national cow-calf biosecurity standard may seem impossible given the wide variation in operations across the country. However, a standard doesn’t dictate what has to be done on the farm. It’s about providing information that will help individuals plan and implement a biosecurity strategy that makes sense for them.
Begin by gaining an understanding of the diseases you must control on your place and how they might arrive and spread, Ross explains. Most infectious diseases are brought in with cattle, wildlife, pests, humans, equipment and contaminated feed.
Not every animal becomes ill when exposed to a disease, though. A lot depends upon the immune status of the animal, as well as its interaction with other animals, and the physical environment. That’s a lot to consider.
Generally, crowding, commingling and transporting (because it adds stress and decreases immunity) are the three most common triggers of a disease outbreak.
Think about the risks that are most prevalent in your operation and about what would be manageable for you to do on a day-to-day basis to reduce those risks. An elaborate plan probably won’t last long if it’s not practical or achievable. It’s better to start with a few basics then add a step at a time as you go along. Review it every so often to consider whether your measures have been effective or need to be tweaked a bit.
Also give some thought to what you would do in the event of an emergency — either a widespread rampant outbreak on your farm, or the threat of a foreign disease, such as foot-and-mouth. Do you have ways to segregate animals to control the spread within your herd and prevent it passing to neighbouring herds?
1. Isolation area
One of the foundations of a biosecurity program is to follow a sound plan for managing new arrivals. Arrange an isolation area for new animals that keeps them from coming in contact with the home herd, says Ross. If necessary, string extra electric wire alongside a fence or corral to prevent nose-to-nose contact. An isolation pen shouldn’t share a water bowl with another pen or pasture.
It’s not a good idea to use your sick pen as an isolation pen. Even if no animals are confined to the sick pen and you clean it out, pathogens can still linger in the soil, the fences and other fixtures.
Monitor new arrivals closely for at least 21 days. A general recommendation is to feed a coccidiostat during the entire quarantine period and treat new arrivals for internal and external parasites. You can also use the three weeks to vaccinate and run any tests that might be necessary.
It’s important to know where these animals have been in the past. If you purchased them from an established breeder and know their health history, then it may not be necessary to revaccinate them. Maybe they only need vaccinations specifito your area recommended by your veterinarian.
Bulls should receive the same vaccines as the replacement heifers.
Remember, animals that appear healthy can still be carriers of BVD, brucellosis, tuberculosis, anaplasmosis and Johne’s. The isolation period — no matter how long — won’t change that.
Testing for specific diseases may be warranted if you don’t know the source of the cattle or have any suspicions. Consult your veterinarian about sampling procedures and collecting ear notch or blood samples for retesting if necessary. Ideally, testing for diseases and breeding soundness exams will have been done before the animals arrive. If you plan to retest the bulls for trichomonosis and semen quality wait until after they pass the quarantine period.
2. Acknowledge problems
Attempts to cover up a disease can snowball out of control in no time, says Ross.
Contact your veterinarian at the first sign of symptoms that seem odd or out of the ordinary for your farm, if you have animal deaths, a high number of affected animals, or the disease seems to spreading rapidly. If it turns out to be a reportable or foreign disease, your veterinarian will contact the CFIA, which then takes over testing and implementing control measures.
Whatever you do, do not ship animals that you suspect may be in the early stages of a disease regardless of how slight the symptoms may appear. Sores in the mouth or on the hooves, for instance, can be signs of various conditions, but together they could spell foot-and-mouth disease.
Be open to the fact that chronically ill animals may have to be euthanized.
3. Let people know
It’s important to discuss biosecurity with your family and employees so they can provide input and understand the reasons for the new rules.
Manure and urine on footwear is by far the most common way in which people spread diseases from area to area and farm to farm.
It stands to reason that people who work with cattle on other farms are more likely to introduce diseases than your buddy who has an office job in town. Asking your neighbour to switch out his boots for boots you provide before entering your barn or corrals could pose an awkward situation. One way to handle it is to reverse the scenario by mentioning that you’ve had a few cases of “whatever disease” and wouldn’t want him or her to take it back home. Providing disposable plastic boot covers or setting up an area to at least wash footwear are other options.
Biosecurity works both ways. If your neighbour calls on you to help out, give your barn boots a quick scrub and soak them in a solution of regular household bleach (one part bleach to nine parts water) for 10 minutes. It is highly effective against most common disease-causing bacteria and viruses, Ross says. Do the same when you return home. If there’s no time to spare, grab a pair of disposable boot covers or boots that you don’t wear in your corrals.
The easiest way to reduce the odds of people bringing animal diseases onto your farm is to limit the number of people who enter your barn, corrals and pastures. One way to do that is to post signs asking people to call or stop at the house before entering the working area of the farm and to establish a parking area for visitors’ vehicles.
4. Equipment and facilities
Perhaps one of the simplest measures you can take is to make sure your own equipment is reasonably clean. That goes for everything from the big equipment like front-end loaders and stock trailers to small tools such as pitchforks and veterinary kits. If you are sharing or renting equipment used in other cattle operations, give it a thorough scrub-down to remove manure and debris before taking it into your pens or pastures.
Clean and disinfect equipment that you regularly use in your sick pen and avoid taking it to other areas of the farm.
Some disinfectants are more effective than others against certain bacteria and viruses. The product labels will provide that type of information along with the required contact time.
If items are grimy, it’s best to scrub them down first because disinfectants have very little actual cleaning power.
Protecting feed areas from wildlife and bird droppings and urine isn’t always possible, but you can control the rodent population around your barn, corrals, grain bins and feed-mixing areas.
5. Simple things count
Discuss biosecurity with your veterinarian.
Implement an effective vaccination strategy for your breeding herd and calves at each stage of development. Improve the overall health of your herd by providing balanced nutrition. Purchase prepared commercial feed from reputable companies that test their ingredients for contaminants. Minimize stress, not only when handling animals, but by preventing crowding at feed and watering sites, providing adequate shelter, and removing them from wet, muddy pens if at all possible.