Home » All Posts » Farm animal »
What is biosecurity and why is it important? More importantly, is it relevant to your smallholding, even if you only have a few animals? Yes, biosecurity is (or should be) very relevant to any animal keeper. Even if your sheep are all much-loved pets, they are still subject to the same infectious diseases as commercial sheep, and deserve at least the same degree of care.
In very broad and simplified terms, biosecurity means being aware of diseases and parasites that could be transmitted from animal to animal (or even from animals to people). And establishing or maintaining measures to avoid introduction and/or spread of disease.
When biosecurity is most important
In real life situations we need to be concerned mostly with the introduction of new individuals; as this is usually the most common route for diseases and parasites to spread. We have all become accustomed in the last couple of years to isolations and quarantines for humans. And the surveillance and protection zones in the case of avian flu outbreaks; these are cornerstones of biosecurity and have been used in farming for decades.
In general terms, biosecurity applies every time there is a threat of new disease; either by introducing new livestock or by a new outbreak within the group. One of the measures of dealing with the former scenario is by enforcing quarantine on arrival; a new disease outbreak needs identifying and isolating sick and infected animals (with barrier nursing if necessary). Biosecurity always relies on 1) Avoiding contact, 2) Early detection (by means of surveillance – usually testing) and 3) Containment.
What are the main aims of quarantining new animals?
- Gives you a chance to examine the new arrival(s) and make note of anything that may need addressing before being released in a larger group.
- If they are incubating any kind of infectious or parasitic disease, a few weeks in isolation will allow detection of symptoms and treatment before joining the main group and potentially spreading disease.
- It gives the new arrivals time to acclimatise to your holding. Not just in terms of new people, location and weather but also diseases. For example: you vaccinate your livestock for certain diseases (as they are present on farm), but the new ones were not vaccinated; keeping them in isolation after they received a dose of vaccine on arrival will give them time to build up the immune response that is needed to deal with the endemic situation in the main group.
What are the aims of isolating sick and infected animals?
- To contain the outbreak, stopping the spread of disease as quickly as possible; the fewer animals in contact with those displaying symptoms, the least chances of the disease taking hold onto new individuals.
- Allow care and treatment away from healthy animals; boots and ideally all clothing/PPE should be changed between caring for diseased and healthy animals.
- Gives you time to try and identify possible vectors, fomites (inanimate objects, such as mucky wellies or vehicle tyres), people and animals that may contribute to spreading disease.
- Facilitating cleaning and disinfecting.
In practical terms, what should I do if facing a new disease outbreak or introducing new livestock?
- Make sure there is an isolation facility that is easy to clean; this must be a building or field with no shared access, air space, water or boundaries with the areas used by the main group.
- Purchase from accredited sources, or make sure to enquire as much as possible regarding the health status of the farm of origin. Often this is disclosed at the mart/point of sale, but it won’t hurt to ask directly the seller. Be very wary of “deals”! The individual thrown in at the last minute just to make up numbers, or a “BOGOF”; these animals are usually bad news and either carriers of disease or ill-thriven beasts you would be better not accepting.
- On arrival new animals must be placed in isolation and kept there for a bare minimum of 2 weeks, although 4 weeks is best. Administer anti-parasite treatments – consult your vet for the specific ones that are most appropriate for your farm.
- Place disinfection points for people entering and leaving the isolation facility.
- If animals have just arrived and are healthy, establish testing and vaccination protocols to bring them in line with the rest of the holding.
- If you are dealing with a disease outbreak and animals are sick, consult with your vet regarding diagnosis, treatment and management of the outbreak going forward.
- Make sure everything is cleaned and disinfected once the isolation facility is vacated (doors, gates, water/feed troughs etc).
The above are generic measures that ought to be implemented for a very basic biosecurity plan. For a more specific and farm-tailored plan of action, please consult with your farm vet who will be happy to advise on protocols and measures. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Preventing diseases from entering your smallholding will always constitute a massive win compared to having to treat and controlling them once they are there.