Cattle producers can benefit from improved operations

Motivated to protect their agricultural investments from the threat of disease outbreaks, many livestock producers – even those on smaller farms – are becoming more aware of ways to improve biosecurity on their farms.

In the summer of 2013, the United States experienced its first confirmed case of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), followed by an outbreak among several swine herds across the northern Midwest.

The disease has the potential to financially devastate producers, and many have started paying attention.

Allen Rice, sales representative at Hartville Feed in Hartville, Mo., said many hog producers across the four-state area have taken steps to implement greater biosecurity practices on their operations.

In terms of biosecurity practices, Rice said that, in general, hog and poultry producers are the appear to maintain the strictest programs. Since cattle are a hardier species, most beef and dairy producers don’t practice biosecurity to the degree that hog and poultry producers do.

Rice said disease prevention is the main objective of biosecurity practices. All of these types of operations – beef, dairy, hogs and poultry – exist over all corners of the four-state area.

“When I think of biosecurity, I think that you’re trying to limit exposure to outside diseases, or potential outside pests,” Rice said.

Though biosecurity typically refers to the prevention of disease transmission within a herd or flock, Rice says it can also refer to guarding against pests, such as wild animals, that can transmit diseases.

“You can’t be too careful,” said Rice. “You’ve got to maintain levels of security at all times.”

University of Missouri Extension Southwest Region Livestock Specialist Elden Cole said these outside pests pose a significant threat.

“Always be watchful for wild animals,” said Cole. These could include animals such as coyotes, raccoons or even stray dogs, which can carry disease.

Cole said he has heard recent stories from farmers about a problematic new species affecting livestock production. Black vultures, also called Mexican vultures, primarily eat decaying animal carcasses. They come onto farms and bring diseases with them.

Additionally, these vultures are capable of attacking small calves, piglets, lambs and goat kids.

No matter the species, Cole said he recommends quarantining any animals that are new to the farm or that have left the farm and returned. For example, cattle may contract diseases at livestock shows, and symptoms may not appear for a few days. A quarantine period should last a minimum of one week.

Rice lives in Golden City, Mo., and said the area’s livestock operations are very diversified. Many of the counties with the highest number of beef cattle, dairy cattle and hogs are in his corner of the state.

“Southwest Missouri is known for its livestock populations,” said Rice.

Though hog and poultry operations typically have the most well-developed biosecurity standards, Cole said that there are ways that beef farmers can protect their herds against disease as well.

The diversity across operations gives way to various levels of biosecurity practices. Rice said larger operations have more sophisticated biosecurity programs with more animal confinement and tighter controls on human visitors. Meanwhile, smaller operations might have livestock outside rather than in a confined space, which creates the need for other types of biosecurity practices. For example, when hogs are in an outdoor space, outdoor “vectors,” including wild animals and birds are always factors that must be managed.

Farmers with larger operations may practice biosecurity to the degree of having people shower in and shower out and requiring wheel baths for all vehicles entering the farm.

“The buildings are completely secure,” said Rice, “Nobody can just walk in.”

Hartville Feed is responsible for practicing biosecurity on all of the farms where its employees deliver feed. On certain farms where higher levels of biosecurity are in place, drivers put on plastic booties, step out of the truck, and spray the tires with disinfectant before driving through the gate.

Hartville Feed truck drivers also follow a standard procedure that prevents them from climbing on feed bins, where the potential to spread disease from farm to farm through contaminating feed and equipment might exist. Rice said that Hartville Feed works out the visit with farmers so they have the bins open beforehand, allowing the drivers to keep a hands-off position.

The cardinal rule for Hartville drivers is that they are not to enter barns at any time.

“It is always understood that you never go into the barns,” said Rice.

In the swine and poultry industry, integrator companies may outline biosecurity principles in a policy or contract, but whether biosecurity procedures are put in place by a company or by an individual producer, Rice said he thought it didn’t make much of a difference in the long run, as long as the practices are consistent.

“Biosecurity is biosecurity,” he said.

Rice said, however, that he thought most farmers understand biosecurity, just to differing degrees.

“It’s going to involve your livelihood,” said Rice.

When biosecurity fails to be a priority, disease can financially ruin producers on all types and sizes of operations.

“If the animals die or if they have to quarantine them to where they can’t come through – that’s a direct impact on (the producer),” said Rice, “It’s something that everybody needs to be aware of, and I think most people are.”


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