Make Biosecurity Easy to Implement

Featured in our 2019 Summer issue, this was written by Dr. Michael Bolton, Dairy Technical Services Manager, Merck Animal Health

June is a busy time, with cattle shows, sales and summer farm tours in full swing. But, it is also a welcome sight, following a very difficult spring season due to the terrible weather conditions in many parts of the country. Any time cattle enter or leave the farm there is always a risk of disease being transferred. While no dairy is exempt from disease pressure, there are steps you can take to minimize this risk.

Merck Animal Health’s biosecurity module and customizable SOP template, as part of the Dairy Care365®training series, can help you identify and protect against potential cattle health threats. The module also offers guidance on implementing practical, easy-to-apply biosecurity practices. Small steps can add up to a significant decrease in risk of introducing diseases into your herd.

Assess your risk
Complete elimination of all disease challenges is expensive and impractical. Instead, identify the risks for your dairy and design management practices based on those risks. Begin by asking yourself what disease concerns you have for your cattle. Then work with your veterinarian to assess your risk tolerance. For example, if you have lost calves to salmonella or experienced reproductive losses to BVD, you may have low tolerance for those diseases.

The next step is to conduct an assessment of your operation to identify the hazards, their impact and the likelihood of introduction. For instance, if you bring newly purchased lactating cows onto the dairy, they could introduce contagious mastitis organisms. If not properly managed, this could have a major impact on milk quality.

Once hazards are identified, it is time to design practical biosecurity management practices that achieve your goals and are easily implemented. These practices need to be communicated to all employees, visitors and suppliers so everyone is doing their part to protect cattle health. Introducing new dairy cattle is one of the highest risks for disease introduction. One way to reduce your risk is to use testing like ear notching for BVD or milk culture for mycoplasmaor staphylococcusmastitis.

Talk to your veterinarian about needs for pre-purchase or on-arrival health testing. If this is done, your biosecurity plan should include how to respond to animals testing positive.

Other risk management practices, as complete quarantine is often impossible, may include creative use of facilities for housing test-positive animals and having dedicated animal caretakers for different groups.

Integrating new animals
All new or returning animals should be individually identified so that records can be kept on the animals’ location on-farm, vaccinations given, pregnancy status and treatments given. This biosecurity practice allows for communication of animal needs among caretakers and allows you to make informed decisions about herd integration.

Vaccinating animals on, or soon after, arrival can improve immunity to diseases. In some situations there may be the ability to vaccinate animals prior to introduction to your herd. The biosecurity plan should include where to house these animals and who will care for them. The plan should also include proper storage of product. Is it shelf stable or does it need to be refrigerated? The stable temperature needed to maintain vaccine is between 38and 42degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid storing vaccines in refrigerator doors as there is huge temperature swings as doors are opened often.

The biosecurity plan should also describe when the animals can be commingled with the home herd. This will vary by disease and should be determined with your veterinarian’s input.

Prevent disease exposure
Separating animals that carry disease from those that could get it is another important biosecurity measure. Separation helps prevent exposure to disease agents. The goal is to provide separate equipment, water and air space for new and returning animals.

Do not utilize the hospital pen for new animal introductions as this pen is to be used for sick and lame animals and dedicated to on-farm animals. These hospitalized animals are also more at risk for infection after exposure because their immune system is often compromised. Keep this in mind when determining where and how to implement a quarantine area.

Another way to prevent disease exposure is to separate off-farm and potentially contaminated movements from on-farm animals, people, vehicles and other equipment. This could be done by establishing a Line of Separation (LOS)around the entire dairy operation(similar to a moat around a castle).

Animal caretakers should come to work having showered, wearing clean clothes and footwear that were not worn around other livestock. This ensures separation of items that might be contaminated and introduce disease agents. Conversely, changing clothes when employees leave the dairy helps protect their family as many cattle diseases are zoonotic (infectious to humans).

Get started today
Biosecurity takes a team effort and benefits everyone –it can protect human health as well as animal health.Merck Animal Health has Dairy Care365 training videos and customizable SOP templates, including one on biosecurity, available at DairyCare365. You may also contact your local Merck Animal Health representative or email DairyCare365@merck.comfor more information.