Biosecurity 101: Everyday biosecurity
Rachael O’Brien, Manager Biosecurity & Extension, Queensland
In my previous article I discussed all things moving and entering your farm or moving about the property and how you can address those risks. However, biosecurity is a concern each and every day, not just when new stock, supplies or visitors are arriving. The good news is, best practice management strategies can easily be worked into your everyday farm management activities.
Vaccinations and treating animals for parasites are good biosecurity techniques for disease management. Diseases can be spread many ways but in each case a disease must find a susceptible host. If your animals are vaccinated for diseases they become less susceptible and less likely to be infected. This strategy depends on what risks you have in your area. If your herd is at risk of endemic diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations, then vaccinating your herd can reduce these financial losses.
When using vaccines and chemicals as part of a management program it is important to consider recording requirements and, most importantly, withholding periods and export slaughter intervals. Some chemicals have a withholding period meaning your animals should not be sent to an abattoir until they are outside of this time frame. Many also have re-treatment intervals meaning you cannot apply that chemical again until outside of the retreatment interval. Chemical usage in livestock is a serious deal because your product is a food source.
The Livestock Production Assurance program (LPA) outlines standards that producers agree to abide by when they become accredited. Part of your commitment to LPA and industry is that chemicals are used responsibly. This includes guaranteeing that veterinary drugs are only used when necessary and in strict guidelines to how they were intended. It includes ensuring correct dose rates for the weight of animals, identifying treated animals and identifying animals with broken needles. It also includes handling and applying other chemicals appropriately such as backlines and drenches in accordance with their labels and you are ensuring animals do not travel to abattoir when they are still within a chemical withholding period.
The other risk of chemicals making their way into your animals is through contaminated sites or items being left unmanaged on your property. This might include old yards pre 1980, old dip yards, sheds, old homesteads, old power poles and discarded batteries. Old dips contained chemicals like arsenic whereas old power poles and yards may have been treated with chemicals such as dieldrin. These are serious chemicals that can have long lasting residuals. Discarded batteries, old paint tins or structures painted in lead based paints are also a source of lead. Lead can be a large problem for producers as abattoirs test for chemical residues including lead. Lead can be consumed by livestock willingly resulting in death or elevated lead levels in the animal for months or years after consumption depending on the dose. If you have old battery dumps it is highly recommended you ensure your livestock cannot access them or dispose of them appropriately.
Other aspects to consider are carcass management and surveillance. We have two types of surveillance in Australia. The first is referred to as active surveillance and is undertaken by national programs where we monitor for diseases that we don’t have through testing and then we use that information to tell countries who buy our products that we are free of these diseases. These are programs like the National TSE (Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) Surveillance Project (e.g. mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep) are monitored by samples taken through the Bucks for Brains Project. You can participate in ‘Bucks for Brains’ through your local veterinarian or Department of Agriculture. Animals showing symptoms of TSE can be euthanised and have samples tested free of charge to producers; producers will also be paid an incentive to participate. If you don’t have access to local veterinarians and are interested in learning more about taking samples to participate in surveillance programs please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The other aspect is passive surveillance, including on-farm surveillance conducted by livestock owners. This can be as simple as looking at your animals when you put out hay or lick or when you are checking waters. If you check your animals and note that you have animals sick or are experiencing unexplained stock deaths that you cannot diagnose, your concerns should be reported immediately. You can report this to your local veterinarian or Department of Agriculture or you can contact the emergency animal disease watch hotline on 1800 675 888. This number is manned by registered veterinarians who will be able to provide advice on the situation. You should have an emergency disease action plan in place for your property to assist you in managing a potential emergency disease. This plan should include preventing movements on and off your property until the relevant authority says it’s safe.
Carcass management is also a biosecurity measure to assist you in managing endemic disease. Managing carcasses may also reduce feral animals from visiting your property. It is long since accepted that animals might die in the paddock and never be seen, especially on extensive properties but if you do come across carcasses you should do something to manage them. Burning or burying them are good ways to dispose of carcasses. If you are burying them ensure you are not burying them over a high water table. If you are not able to do either of these, you may be able to use a contractor to remove the carcass (dependant on area) or drag the carcass off a water point to a less trafficked area of the paddock. Even though this is not ideal you are still reducing the amount of your animals that come into contact with the carcass, which in phosphorus deficient country may encourage bone chewing.
Weeds and pests are sometimes difficult to manage. Pest and weeds should be managed as part of day to day activity because of their invasive nature. Feral animals compete for food and water and damage infrastructure. Weeds compete for space and nutrients that pastures/fodder crops could be utilising and in some instances can be toxic to stock. There are many different methods for controlling weeds and pests, some are more suitable than others. Weed and pest management comes down to how much of an impact the problem is having on your property, which will govern what approach you take. Firstly it’s important to outline your goals (e.g. eradication vs management) and then consider the practicality of available management processes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to weeds and pests. Some producers spot spray weeds where as others rotational graze with species that help manage weeds. Some producers engage a licenced contractor to shoot feral animals where as others fence their properties to prevent entry. There is help available in regards to pest and weed management including local and state governments and Landcare groups. A regional approach may also be more appropriate in some instances where neighbours work together to manage pests and weeds. This can happen by timing programs to tie in with either so that a larger area becomes managed for the same problem. A little bit of biosecurity can go a long way, especially when we all work together.
In my final article for this series, I’ll be discussing how responsibility for good biosecurity doesn’t end at the farm gate and why your biosecurity plan is important not just for you, but for your neighbours, your region and your whole industry.