Biosecurity lessons learnt at Barega

Shelley SaundersAs producers of high quality fleece in Tasmania’s northern Midlands, Shelley Saunders and her partner Chris are acutely aware of the importance of protecting the health and productivity of their flock, as well as the perception of Australian products in international markets.

In the past, their property ‘Barega’ has suffered outbreaks of lice, footrot and Johne’s disease – costly shocks that prompted Ms Saunders to bolster her on-farm biosecurity systems in order to minimise the chance of it happening again.

“Each time we had an incident, it increased our awareness of the importance of addressing biosecurity risks before they happen,” Ms Saunders said.

“In the early days we purchased in stock not knowing that they had an underlying disease problem. This was the days before sheep health statements.

“Our first experience was lice that came in on some sheep we purchased, and it took five months before we realised that they had lice.

“We have also had two major outbreaks of footrot. The first time we brought it in was certainly a grim lesson.  We eradicated it at the time but it was a very hard path to go down.
“The last time that we brought in stock was about eight years ago was when we inadvertently brought in Johnes disease.”

With each disease outbreak, there were significant costs, prompting a rethink of their farm biosecurity system.

“Prevention is so much better than treatment. Now we are using a tool box of approaches to keep disease at bay, including keeping animals in good health so their immunity is at its best,” she said.

A big part of Ms Saunders biosecurity strategy has been to get on top of stray stock, which carry a major risk of introducing lice and footrot.

“As soon as we come across any stray stock we pounce on them and give them a full inspection for footrot and lice. Strays are isolated in the shed and the owners are rung to come and pick them up,” she said.

“It is interesting that you still hear things like ‘just put them over the fence’, and it would horrify me if that happened to us because we might pick something up and never know where it came from.”

She also now runs a closed, self-replacing flock to prevent pests and diseases being brought in from the outside, but if replacement stock do need to be purchased she now has clear standards to follow.

“I wouldn’t buy anything without a Sheep Health Statement now. If venders aren’t interested in sharing the history of the animal, I am not interested in purchasing them,” she said.

“It was certainly great attending the Livestock Biosecurity Network workshop and having a structured form to work your way through when preparing a farm biosecurity plan. That sort of tool would have been really helpful in the earlier days when we had our problems.”

One of the latest changes to be made on ‘Barega’ has been to join the Nile Catchment Regional Biosecurity Group. As a part of this group, traders, producers and hobby farmers all work together to take a consistent approach to issues like returning stray stock, and to become better informed about the importance of biosecurity.

LBN’s Biosecurity Officer in Tasmania Jess Coad said that there were a number of easy steps producers could take to minimise the risk of introducing pests and diseases when purchasing livestock.

Shelley Saunders sheep“The number one thing is knowing the health status of the livestock, and this involves looking at a sheep or a cattle health statement and inspecting the livestock before making the purchase decision,” Dr Coad said.

“Once the animals arrive on the property, a quarantine period for the new livestock is recommended.

“The induction process for new sheep arriving on the property should include a quarantine drench; a combination of no less than four unrelated drench actives, with one of these being monepantel (Zolvix) or Derquantel (Startect). Then check the drench has worked with a worm egg count 10-14 days after.

“Keep the sheep in quarantine in yards for small mobs or a secure paddock for larger mobs, for at least three days to allow worm eggs and weed seeds to pass out of the gut. Be sure to provide adequate feed and water and provide any other vaccinations that may be necessary.

“During this period of time, producers should also monitor the animals for any signs of ill-health or injury after transport.

“It’s also recommended keeping new animals isolated from others until you are sure they don’t have footrot or lice; for lice this may be as long as six months or the end of spring for footrot.”

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