With the arrival of calving season, now is the time to talk about biosecurity.
Just like we have learned principles to prevent the spread and contraction of COVID-19 between humans, similar principles apply to most infectious diseases in livestock production.
The diseases vary between species, but many principles remain the same. Cleaning and disinfection in the appropriate areas and at the appropriate times and at the appropriate frequency will go a long way to prevent disease transmission. These measures require labour, but are not especially costly.
If we can decrease disease transmission, it may mean fewer treatments, less antibiotic use, possibly a better response to vaccines, and rarely it could mean that certain vaccines can be eliminated.
Disease transmission depends on the amount of infectious organisms and their virulence, the contagiousness of the organism and the animals’ protective levels.
Stress from crowding, temperature, drafts, lack of adequate feed or concurrent sickness all lower an animal’s ability to fight disease.
By cleaning and disinfecting, we are eliminating or reducing the amount of infectious organisms.
Producers can reap benefits by carrying out more preventive work during calving time by more thoroughly cleaning key areas and equipment more often. These include coveralls, boots, sleds, esophageal feeders, calf pullers, obstetrical chains, the surfaces of maternity pens, tires, vehicles that move among pens, slings, scales, multi-dose syringes and calving suits to name a few. Some of these need constant cleaning and disinfection when in use.
If left too long without proper cleaning, this equipment can develop a biofilm, where the bacteria are protected. It requires very thorough cleaning to remove biofilms in some cases.
I have concentrated on aspects of cleaning that deal mostly with calving, but other cleaning hotspots include, feed rooms, loader buckets that alternate between feeding and manure loading, and any other equipment where there is the possibility of fecal-to-oral contamination. Manure or wet environments can harbour lots of bacteria.
Viruses generally are more fragile, so transmission is more commonly from direct contact. However, viruses can be transmitted mechanically as well. Regularly cleaning feed bunks and watering bowls, and keeping the processing and hospital areas as clean as possible, can help prevent infectious respiratory disease, for example.
It is time well spent for producers to sometimes hose out and thoroughly clean processing chutes and maternity pens.
Also, producers should watch for any kind of wildlife contamination because they can spread diseases such as leptospirosis.
Good disinfectants are necessary for every farm and ranch. Virkon covers most organisms but sometimes harsher cleansers, such as bleach, are required. They all have a place on the farm.
It can sometimes pay off to keep an area to use for isolation. This could be used for new arrivals or sick calves and their mothers at calving time. It is a difficult decision when treating to decide whether to get the calf away from its mother or to treat them together.
This commonly happens with diseases such as scours from bacterial viral or protozoan sources. By removing the calf and cow, you greatly limit the spread of infectious organisms within the herd.
The cleaning, disinfection, isolation and treatment is carried out to prevent the infectious organism from spreading. Having a separate set of coveralls, treatment equipment and drugs can prevent you, the farmer, from being the cause of disease spread. One only needs to look at calving coveralls or the pullers used by some people to realize where the contamination started.
As well, attention must be paid to visitors, including salesmen, nutritionists and veterinarians.
They must be clean with their boots disinfected. Having a supply of plastic booties to put over regular shoes can help.
Following these principles and thorough cleaning of important areas can go a long way to improve biosecurity practices on any farm.
As well, the power of vaccinations, while not an absolute, can establish herd immunity.
Happy calving season everyone.
Roy Lewis works as a veterinarian in Alberta.