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On-farm biosecurity: Keep it practical

A veteran vet’s advice for cow-calf producers

Rubber boots, a bottle of bleach, and a cleaning brush.

Verified Beef Production (VBP) – It’s not hard for on-farm biosecurity to get complicated. But when you’ve been around the industry like Dr. Tom Pittman of the University of Calgary, you get a clear idea of what works.

Having complicated biosecurity protocols without practising basics just does not make sense, he says. The target should be to be practical, not onerous. The goal in most cases isn’t sterilizing, just gross decontamination.

From his years as a vet, educator and industry adviser he offers these tips to do that.

Have a boot-cleaning kit. Footbaths have their place but for most cow-calf operations they aren’t practical in freezing temperatures or muddy conditions. And dipping boots in them doesn’t allow enough contact time to penetrate mess.

The most important thing is removing mud and manure from boots. A high-pressure washer works, but just as effective is a good brush, scraper and pail of hot, soapy water. Once cleaned, use a spray bottle to thoroughly apply a solution of household bleach as a last step.

Simplify disinfectant use. There are many good disinfectants but the best option is one that is readily available and will be used. “The more expensive the product, the more the tendency to skimp. Everyone has household bleach and will not be afraid to use it.”

Guest clothes make sense. Have extra boots and coveralls for visitors. No need to manage footbaths and wash-up protocols or tell people they need to clean up.

Wash your hands. “We don’t wash hands enough. If you don’t like disposable gloves, use alcohol-based hand cleaners.”

Have dedicated equipment. There are two biosecurity goals in calving season.  Don’t introduce anything. “Avoid buying little calves from the auction and know where your colostrum is coming from.”

And manage what’s on your farm. “For example, mark and keep colostrum feeder bags separate for healthy and sick calves. Saliva and milk fats are sticky. Clean bags with hot, soapy water, rinse and disinfect with bleach solution. Then hang to dry.”

Healthy animals first in farm chores. Treating healthy animals first, then sick maximizes the time between when you are last in contact with sick animals.

Clean ear tag equipment. Even small amounts of blood on tagging and tattooing equipment can transfer disease such as bovine leucosis.

Fresh needles make sense. Use detectable needles and try to use a fresh one for every animal. Good needles cost only a few cents compared to the cost of the product.

Manage bull entry. Best advice is to buy bulls with known health records and keep them separate from other bulls for a period of quarantine time.

Protect the beef showcase

“Every visitor to a farm or ranch is a chance to showcase Canada’s beef industry,” says Pittman. “The best biosecurity options allow producers to manage effectively without scaring people off.”



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