Biosecurity: Is your farm protected? – Dr. Jenn Rowntree, Vita Plus
By Brittany Olson, contributing writer
With many dairy and calf operations feeling the pain from Salmonella, especially in Wisconsin, and increased pressure from consumers to reduce antibiotic usage, biosecurity is currently a hot topic in animal agriculture. During her Vita Plus Calf Summit breakout session, Dr. Jenn Rowntree, Vita Plus calf and heifer specialist, explained why biosecurity is more important than ever before and what you can do to ensure the safety of your production.
Rowntree explained that biosecurity means keeping pathogens off your farm. However, for many calf and heifer raisers with animals constantly coming and going, they practice biocontainment, which is the act of keeping any pathogens on the farm from spreading to other animals.
While antibiotics certainly have their place in treating illnesses, prevention is better for the herd, particularly in the case of pathogens, like Salmonella dublin, that are resistant to most antibiotics. Individual treatments also eat up a lot of time and cost money, not to mention the expense of decreased growth and production caused by disease outbreaks.
In addition, many diarrhea-causing pathogens are zoonotic and can also make humans sick. For example, people are three times more likely to be hospitalized with Salmonella dublin than any other strain of Salmonella. This has implications on public health and safety, and can decrease consumer trust.
“Pathogens adapt to vaccines, antibiotics and pesticides,” Rowntree said. “We need to decrease our load of exposure.”
Biosecurity can be achieved on any dairy regardless of herd size or management practices by identifying hazards, assessing exposure to pathogens, and characterizing and managing farm-specific risks. A good place to start is by listing specific diseases considered a threat to your dairy in order of potential impact, such as rotavirus, coronavirus, or Salmonella, Rowntree said.
Some practices that reduce the spread of disease include:
- Increasing host resistance to infection by improving nutrition and reducing stress
- Removing reservoirs of infection by removing built up bedding and spoiled feed
- Rowntree said contaminated feed and water are huge reservoirs of Salmonella.
- Improving hygiene and stocking density to prevent contact that encourages disease transmission
In addition to pathogens spreading via the fecal-to-oral or nose-to-nose route, they can also be spread to cattle via other animals, such as flies, birds, rodents and other pets on the farm. Rowntree shared a story about a dairy that lost several cows to Clostridia because a dead barn cat got into the TMR mixer.
To characterize and manage risk, Rowntree said it is best to start by mitigating high-risk practices. She said to avoid purchasing cattle from other farms, housing sick cows in maternity pens, and eliminate any management practices that allow for fecal contamination of feed, water, and equipment.
Other practices she cited were having service trucks enter a separate entrance on the farm, and avoid feed and rendering trucks from entering cattle pens. Fly control also needs to be in place months before the eggs hatch.
When it comes to cleaning equipment, Rowntree emphasized that cleaning is not the same as disinfecting. Just because something looks clean does not mean it is. Biofilm, while impossible to see, means bacteria are having a field day reproducing on hard surfaces.
“Read the labels [on cleaning chemicals], know the goals of each step in cleaning and disinfection protocols, and monitor efficacy,” Rowntree said.
Visitor access must also be assessed. All visitors must know where they can and can’t go on the dairy, wear clean clothes or coveralls, and wash their boots.
“If someone isn’t willing to wash their boots coming and going from your dairy, there are enough people in the dairy industry that you can find someone who is,” Rowntree said.
Communication with service providers and employees is a key piece of the biosecurity puzzle, too, as well as keeping health records. Help your employees understand animal flow and biosecurity risks, Rowntree said. If they understand why biosecurity is important, they’re more likely to get on-board with you.
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