Tailored biosecurity advice can make a difference

Beef cattle producers make decisions every day that can affect the risk of infectious disease entering their cattle operation.

Decisions on where and when to buy new stock or deciding whether to use a community pasture can have major impacts on the risk of infectious diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), trichomoniasis, and tuberculosis. 

Biosecurity can be described as all of the management practices that prevent the movement of disease-causing agents between and within livestock operations. 

Biosecurity involves almost all aspects of farm management including environmental and manure management.

We can develop biosecurity plans for entire nations, regions or individual farms to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

A recent scientific study in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine evaluated the value of veterinarians providing tailored biosecurity advice and its effect on farmer behaviour and the presence of pathogens in beef herds in England and Wales. 

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom recruited 116 beef cow-calf herds from 10 different veterinary practices and followed these herds for three years.

The herds were randomized into two groups. About half the herds received tailored veterinary advice regarding biosecurity on their farm while the other herds acted as the control group and producers received only generic advice from their veterinarians.

A scoring system was developed to evaluate and score the biosecurity practices on each herd.

Veterinarians were able to use this tool in the targeted advice herds to evaluate management practices and to identify factors that could be targeted for change.

Vets visited all farms annually to complete the risk assessment questionnaire allowing them to have a total of four risk assessments per herd. 

In addition, blood samples were collected from about 50 animals per farm and were evaluated for the presence of BVD virus antibodies, IBR virus antibodies, Leptospirosis antibodies and bovine tuberculosis antibodies.

The participating veterinarians worked with the intervention herds to develop a biosecurity strategy for the year and used the scoring system to estimate the potential effects of that strategy. 

Control farms had the scoring system applied, but received only general feedback and advice instead of a tailored biosecurity program.

As you can imagine, this is a very difficult study to carry out as it involves working with a large number of farms and veterinarians over a prolonged period of time. 

At the end of the study, animals on the intervention herds (those that received specific veterinary biosecurity advice) had a significantly lower rate of serologically positive animals to infectious diseases such as BVD virus and Leptospira hardjo. 

When using the scoring system for risk assessment, all herds had significantly reduced scores over the three years of the study demonstrating that biosecurity practices had markedly improved on all herds.

This may be due to the fact that all farms, regardless of intervention status, had more emphasis placed on biosecurity in their interactions with their veterinarians.

This is the first scientific study that has provided some evidence that tailored biosecurity advice packages have the potential to reduce the prevalence of infectious disease. It demonstrates that a biosecurity risk assessment scoring tool can be used by producers and veterinarians to develop a more effective program.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in collaboration with producer organizations, provincial and territorial governments and academia, has established national biosecurity standards for most of the livestock industries found within Canada.

Both the beef cattle and dairy cattle industries have documents describing how to implement biosecurity practices on your farm and what areas to focus on. 

The biosecurity standards are there to help producers create biosecurity plans that will be specific to their farm. Farm workers, family members, service providers and anyone who conducts business with or visits your farm should be made aware of the importance of biosecurity.

Some of the major management areas that the cattle biosecurity standards focus on include:

  • animal health management

  • animal additions and movement

  • premises management and sanitation ( a focus of the dairy document)

  • management of the movement of people, vehicles, equipment and tools

  • education, planning and record keeping.

The documents are worth reading for all cattle producers. They can be found online on the CFIA website. 

Working with a veterinarian to adapt these standards to your particular herd may even provide greater benefits.

We rely on biosecurity to protect our animals and our livelihood. 

It is always difficult to ascertain the benefits of biosecurity when there are no major outbreaks. 

However, good biosecurity will usually result in less disease and healthier, more productive livestock.

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