Biosecurity 101: If it moves, it poses a risk

Rachael O’Brien, Manager Biosecurity & Extension, Queensland

Knowing what you are up against is fundamental in choosing what biosecurity practices to apply. In my previous article, I discussed the five key ways in which diseases spread between livestock. Understanding risk is central to developing a biosecurity plan and also helps you to play your part in the greater picture of biosecurity. The next step is to recognise that human activity and farm management practices can both create and mitigate biosecurity risks.

Livestock movements

Pests and disease, both exotic and endemic, are most likely spread from property to property through livestock movements. As technology and infrastructure has evolved over time pest and disease can now spread even further.  In today’s world we can load animals onto a truck or trains and have them hundreds of kilometres away by nightfall. We can’t manage hundreds of kilometres of land, but we can manage the loading and unloading points.

When we bring in new animals, knowing the health status and history of these animals is important. The aim of the game here is to limit the introduction of pests and diseases onto your farm. So ask yourself what diseases are endemic in my area, how do they spread, and which ones am I trying to manage? Make a list. What pests do I have in the area that I don’t want on my property, and how are they spread? Add them to your list.

You may choose to manage these threats by buying livestock that are free from or vaccinated against diseases you are trying to prevent. It is recommended that you use an animal health declaration when buying and selling livestock, as it gives you the opportunity to gather as much information on these animals as possible. It also gives you the opportunity to provide this information to your prospective buyers. More information about cattle health declarations and JBAS can be found here.

Stock feeds and water

Australia has swill feeding bans in place to prevent the introduction of serious diseases into our country and industry. People who have pigs need to understand what is and is not swill if they are feeding scraps to pigs. Swill feeding includes any part of a vertebrates, it also includes food that has come into contact with meat products, for example if you had steak for dinner, any leftover steak is considered swill but since your vegetables have also been on the same plate as your steak they are also considered to be swill. Read more in swill here.

State governments also monitor products fed to ruminants as stock feeds for restricted animal matter (RAM) through compliance projects to ensure that RAM is not being fed to ruminants through this pathway. It is important that producers do their bit in terms of ensuring RAM does not find its way to ruminants. Producers should ensure all staff or people that feed ruminants know about the ban in feeding RAM to ruminants so it is not being fed by accident. Other products may also contain RAM such as pig and chicken feeds as well as blood and bone fertilisers being a few key examples. If you use these products you should ensure they are stored in a manner that prevents access by ruminants. There is a helpful producer checklist available that will assist producers with managing RAM on their properties and remember- Absolutely no RAM for the pet lamb.

Bringing on hay or grain products should also be managed from a food safety aspect. Hay and grain production can include the use of chemicals which can leave residues and require withholding periods. It’s not illegal for these businesses to use chemicals, as it is part of their production, but producers who then buy their products and feed them to livestock should ask for a Commodity Vendor Declaration so that if there has been a chemical applied to the product you can continue to manage any withholding periods accordingly.

Managing people, vehicles and equipment

This one is always the hardest sell to producers but it’s the most important one for those exotic diseases.

Some diseases like foot and mouth disease – which is a virus spreads through fomites (clothing, vehicles, equipment), directly from infected animal to susceptible animal, or through the air via infected droplets (sneeze or even the breath of an infected animal) – are extremely serious and, thankfully, not present in Australia. Because we don’t have foot and mouth disease we don’t need to make everyone have a shower before they visit or leave our property, but we should keep a record of when they visit.

During an emergency animal disease outbreak such as foot and mouth disease, making everyone shower and wash down their vehicle will be part of management and containment, but in peace times we should focus on record keeping. In the event of an emergency animal disease outbreak these records are very important. To contain and eradicate a disease, state governments need to be able to trace the original source to ensure complete containment. Your records could play a huge part of how quickly this happens. The quicker an exotic disease is contained the faster our country can enter the proof of freedom phase to start gaining access to our previous international markets. Your records could be the difference between a five or a 10 year ban on international trade. Producers or Veterinarians that want to know more about foot and mouth disease can complete free online training here.

If you keep your animals away from your home block and you do not have a way of knowing who has been on your property then you may choose to use signage. Signage is a tool to help capture visitor information. You can choose to erect a sign displaying your contact details (phone or UHF) of how people wanting to access your property can contact you to discuss their visit. Signage is not compulsory, if you do not wish to use a sign no one will force you. Find out more fact vs fiction on signage here.

The other aspect of why we should manage our visitors is weed introduction. The first rule of weed spread is that the bigger the surface area of an object, the more weed seeds it can bring in. When I am looking at my own boots vs my vehicle, my vehicle is the bigger problem. You could install a wash down facility to address vehicle movement; they certainly solve the problem, but for those of you not in that financial position, you can also apply the golden rule of biosecurity – segregation. If someone comes onto your property to visit, be it a vet, your agent or a family member, have them park their car at the house and take yours around the property. In doing so, you know visitors have come in via your driveway and where they have parked, so you can manage this area for weeds. If visitors’ vehicles stay at the house or don’t leave established tracks you are not increasing your work load.

Managing equipment that you may lend to neighbours or hire out is also important for weed introduction. If you do share equipment it is best practice to wash down equipment when you are going between enterprises or be clear with how you expect the equipment to be returned.

 

In my next article, I’ll be talking about how good biosecurity is likely already part of your ongoing farm management activities or to give you some more ideas on how you can improve your current practices. You are likely to find you already have a good biosecurity plan in place on your property without knowing it.