Addressing biosecurity on the dairy farm

Read this article to learn more on how you can begin to address this issue. Biosecurity is becoming a much more important issue on the modern dairy farm.

Dairy farms in general tend to be very open in terms of policies regarding site visitations and limitations, etc. This is not generally the case with other livestock species, especially poultry and hog operations.

Large scale poultry producers and hog facilities typically have in place policies that pertain to anyone entering the premises, be it strangers or regular suppliers. The concern is obvious. With so many livestock located in herds or flocks, if an outbreak of contagious disease occurred, it might quickly wipe out the whole operation. From their standpoint, the first line of defense is to do whatever is necessary to keep infectious material off the premises by limiting who enters the premises. Given the susceptibility of large flocks or herds to various highly contagious infectious agents, these producers have no choice.

In addressing the issue of bio-security at a dairy operation, it is important that procedures regulating how and where visitors are allowed be implemented before an emergency occurs.

These procedures are aimed at minimizing the possibility of disease causing substances being tracked in on footwear, clothing and even hair.

Poultry and hog facilities have recognized the risk potential and have the most stringent visitation programs. They may include walking through a disinfecting footbath or showering and then changing into disposable clothing and footwear in order to enter livestock areas. When leaving the premises, the disposable clothing is left behind and the footwear is disinfected again.

Dairy farms historically have based contagious disease concerns around brucellosis and TB. Mastitis, while a significant economic disease, does not tend to be treated as seriously as a contagious disease. Only recently have other potential concerns arisen. The dairy producers vocabulary now includes BSE and FMD (foot and mouth disease).

FMD has not been found in the U.S. since 1929, so there is no real appreciation of what the introduction of this disease can mean. Watching events transpiring in Europe, however, paints a grim picture, and it becomes vital that all livestock producers become proactive in addressing the issue.

Additionally, a major phenomenon that has emerged in the past 20-30 years, particularly in the US dairy industry, has been the creation of very large dairies housing several hundred or thousand cows housed in close proximity to each other. An infectious disease, introduced into such a herd, could rapidly spread and wreak havoc.

As leaders in many aspects of dairying, U.S. dairy farms, in particular, but progressive farms the world over, are hosts to any number of outsiders wishing to learn. In the U.S., foreign visitors arrive in conjunction with World Dairy Expo, The Tulare Farm Show and other major shows, anxious to view the latest in technique and technology. How do you handle these guests on your farm? What if they come from a country where FMD has popped up or is endemic. Is your farm protected against the introduction of a problem – one that might inadvertently arrive with them.

All dairies, small or large, need to ask themselves a number of questions regarding the potential risk of disease entering their farm. Based on their answers, certain actions should be implemented. It is in the best interest of every dairy to consider at least the most basic issues and act accordingly.

On a daily basis, how many people enter your property? List them. Consider:

a. Milk trucks
b. Feed delivery people
c. Service people for at least one or more types of equipment
d. Route delivery people
e. Sales people

It soon becomes obvious that on a daily basis, a dairy farm can be visited by any number of individuals, many having probably been on other farms prior to yours. Some dairies might also be visited by foreign guests interested in herd genetics or the special characteristics of the farm; thus heightening the risk of infection arriving from some remote location. The world has become very small; the risks have become very real.

Steps to take:

Develop a farm visitation policy that deals with the basic rules for farm visits.
Post it prominently for all to see.

Consider including:

  1. Have all visitors enter the farm at a specific location. Be requiring this you gain control over the coming and going of every one entering the location.
  2. Establish a footwear disinfection system at the point where people first enter the facility.
  3. Permit no one into the cattle housing or milking areas without first being cleared to do so. There is no harm in limiting the number of people that enter.
  4. People entering the cattle handling areas, including the milking parlor, need to be wearing disinfected boots or given plastic footwear that can be slipped on over regular shoes. Veterinarians follow a standard disinfecting procedure upon entering any facility for just these reasons.
  5. It should be mandatory for people entering the milking parlor to examine teats to wear latex or nitrile gloves which would be disposed of before leaving the farm.
  6. At this point, safeguarding our facilities means implementing a few common sense procedures to limit disease organism transmission.

In the case of foot and mouth disease the challenge is immense once it is introduced.

  1. It is a virus that has many variations.
  2. It can be shed in all body fluids including milk, urine, manure, blood, semen and exhaled air from the lungs.
  3. The virus can travel on clothing, footwear and hair, therefore being easily relocated by unsuspecting or careless individuals.
  4. The virus can ride on wind currents for up to 20-40 miles. It infects multiple species including pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats.
  5. It can live in the environment for weeks or months, depending on conditions.
  6. The virus is cleaver; it produces a very high rate of infection, but the death rate I quite low. This allows for rapid spreading.
  7. It primarily affects the mouth area and the feet with severe lesions. Animals cannot eat or walk without pain.
  8. It may also cause teat lesions in dairy cows.
  9. It debilitates the animals, but generally does not kill it.

In a country such as the U.S. where it has not existed for years, we do not vaccinate and it is not an option. When detected, a herd would have to be isolated, a quarantine boundary established and all animals in the herd euthanized, with the carcasses burned on site.

Disinfectants including caustic compounds and acidic compounds that produce major pH changes appear effective in killing the virus but are not a sure guarantee.

Our best and really only option is to be very diligent and keep it from entering the country by enforcing common sense procedures on individual herds as well as nationally.

In this era of global networking, any dairy, anywhere in the world, could be visited by anyone. Procedures written and implemented along the guidelines cited above will help to minimize the risk of introducing any of these highly contagious diseases to a herd.

Doing anything less is an open invitation to problems.

Related Links:

World Reference Laboratory for Foot-and-Mouth Disease
Institute for Animal Health (Pirbright Laboratory - UK)
Not an article, but an excellent website devoted to information about Foot and Mouth disease in the United Kingdom. Provides recent news stories, scientific articles and references to many other information sources.
British Government site- Introduction to Animal Health and Welfare

Another ver informative website about Foot and Mount disease in the United Kingdom. Provides many useful fact sheets and full details of current cases. The site is updated regularly with the latest information about the outbreak in the UK.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
USDA - Animal and Plant Health Inpsection Service
This site offers a thorough handling of information on the subject of this disease in the U.S. Also contains many links to related topics.
Foot-and-Mouth Disease
USDA - Animal and Plant Health Inpsection Service
A basic website that provides information mostly on travel restrictions relating to Foot and Mouth disease. Also provides links to other sites with more detailed information


Winston Ingalls

Winston Ingalls
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