Boosting your Biosecurity Game

How Producers Across Livestock Sectors are Keeping their Operations Healthy

By Colleen Halpenny

As outlined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), biosecurity is a description for a set of measures designed to protect Canada’s animal and plant resources – whether these be from foreign or established infectious and parasitic disease agents at the national, regional and farm levels.

Lisa Bishop-Spencer, director of brand and communications with Chicken Farmers of Canada, is quick to note that “biosecurity is the most important element to food safety, animal health, and animal care. We need to do everything we can to protect our birds, farms, and farmers.”

Patrick Girard, media contact with CFIA, is proud of the “preventative measures which have historically been in place to keep animals healthy as a successful standard operating procedure on farms.”

National biosecurity standards are available for the following sectors:

  • Avian farms
  • Bee industry
  • Beef cattle farms
  • Cervid industry
  • Dairy farms
  • Equine industry
  • Goat industry
  • Mink industry
  • Sheep industry
  • Transportation of livestock, poultry and deadstock

These voluntary sector-specific standards are supported by producer guides to assist producers in implementing them.

We spoke with members of several livestock sectors for tips on how to improve your own biosecurity.

Making the time

“Biosecurity is one word, and it sounds simple, but it’s really, really hard,” says David Kelton, Dairy Farmers of Ontario research chair in Dairy Cattle Health with the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph.

“The general consumer has been exposed to a higher biosecurity level over the past two years with the pandemic, and we’re seeing that they’re tired of taking the time to do those extra preventative measures.

“But on virtually every farm, regardless of livestock or commodity, there are dozens of diseases that we are daily trying to ideally keep off the farm or under control.

“So, when you have an already 10 to 12-hour work day under your belt, some of those SOPs that add an extra 10 minutes can be a tough sell on the upstart. Mindset and time are the most precious commodities when looking at how impactful your biosecurity standards will be.”

Jonathan and Ben Bos are part of the ownership team behind Bosdale Farms Inc., an operation raising dairy and swine located outside Cambridge, Ont. As Jonathan says, “biosecurity is an enormously important part of our operation. Protocols and policies are very important, but the mindset of every person must be in tune with the philosophy of herd health.”

Melissa Atchison, vice president of Manitoba Beef Producers says, “the Verified Beef Production Plus program has amazing resources of practical and cost-effective SOPs. Having the industry work towards the protocols they need, but in a way that fits producers’ day to day lifestyles have made these transitions smooth and protocols readily adapted.”

Bishop-Spencer says, “Nobody likes paperwork, but farmers see the benefit of being able to categorically demonstrate to the consumer, processor – whoever needs to know, that there are standards and protocols in place. We didn’t create the programs to force farmers to do X Y Z but rather, to demonstrate that they already are doing X Y Z.”

Protecting yourself, and others

Bishop-Spencer explains that “our on-farm food safety program was the first meat program recognized by CFIA, and we have been continuously working to better the program for our farmers over the last decade. Programs both for animal care and food safety are mandatory for all farmers to follow, audited and third party audited. We are continually improving based on what external factors we face, and what needs our farmers are expressing.

Disease evolves, so we must as well. In 2018, Health Canada policy changed to Categories 1-3, so they now need vet prescription. We implemented that into our on-farm safety program.

“We take the time when we review the current policies, and provide additional clarification to ensure producers understand.

“As an example, all new barns need a non-porous surface to ensure cleaning and disinfection meets code after each group passes through the barn.”

Atchison says that “biosecurity is all about prevention.

“Keeping outbreaks and diseases at bay that are communicable to your own herd and other operations is crucial. This is as simple as keeping visitors away during calving season, and keeping a boot-wash available so no cross contamination occurs if you were at another rancher’s operation.

STOP sign with Biosecurity Warning sign
    Chicken Farmers of Canada photo

“An easy-to-implement and easy-to-use traceability protocol is so important. This helps monitor livestock and human movements. Not only for where they came from, but where they ended up. This helps the industry if an outbreak were to occur to readily be able to trace the origin.

“We’re prepared in the sense that our provinces have worked closely to protect our herds. Foot and mouth disease and BSE in the U.K. have been big wake up calls for the industry to better position themselves in a preventative way to help producers not experience that level of devastation.”

Kelton says that “while it’s easy to focus on the spread of disease from one group of cattle to another, we also must keep in mind the spread to those humans who interact with them.

“Dairy farms are very welcoming to visitors, and while you might provide a boot-wash or shoe covers, how many times does that school group come in contact with a calf who is subclinical with ringworm or crypto?”

Keeping dirty and clean separate

As Jonathan Bos explains, “we have pages and pages of protocols and rules and SOPs for every aspect of our operation, but it basically boils down to one thing – don’t let dirty touch clean.

“It sounds simple, and it is, but it requires awareness and dedication.

“An example of this is that our pig barns are all shower-in, shower-out. All exterior doors are locked at all times so foot traffic can only flow through the shower area. Showers have clear Clean/Dirty delineation. We treat everything on the dirty side as potentially contaminated.

“Our vets use a simple thought process to teach this concept. Imagine the whole outside world to be coated in red paint. Your goal is to wash it all off before entering the barn.

“We recently built a new calf-rearing facility with a focus on best disinfection outcomes. Calves are housed individually for the first three weeks of life in a clean environment to develop a strong immune system. The barn is divided into sections that can be completely emptied, washed, disinfected before new stock is introduced. All plastic, stainless steel, concrete (no wood) for easy cleaning/minimal harboring of bacteria. This has shown excellent results in reducing calf scours, which will pay dividends in future performance,” says Ben Bos.

“Disinfection between flock groups is critical to the success of your next batch of birds,” says Bishop-Spencer.

Bottles being cleaned
    Veal Farmers of Ontario photo

Kelton says that “small daily things like not using the same fork for feed as manure is something most readily recognize as a good practice. But it’s also taking the extra time in areas like calf care, where historically we’ve seen less energy allocated. Properly cleaned hutches, nipples, buckets and bottles keep not only those calves healthy today, but your next group healthy, and then in turn a healthy group of two-year-olds entering your milking line. Time and effort today will always pay back to your operation.”

No one-size-fits-all solution

Girard outlines that “one biosecurity plan will not fit the needs of every farm operation. Biosecurity plans should be developed to meet the specific needs of each operation, with each operation implementing these practices into daily routines that are appropriate for specific diseases or risks.

“Producers should review their production practices in relation to disease prevention on a frequent basis and ensure that their strategies are carried out. An effective biosecurity plan should be flexible and open to new knowledge and technology as these become available.”

Atchison says, “everyone is unique – treat your operation that way. No one can do everything right every day. Find your biggest risk factors. Find ways in which you can minimize those problems, and focus your times and resources into better protocols.

“The dividends these changes pay back into your operation are well worth the time. Knowing what risks are prevalent in your unique area and a good vet relationship keeps you on your toes, knowing what’s been popping up around to keep vaccines up to date, etc., like blackleg or anthrax in the soil because of flooding.”

Bishop-Spencer explains that “each province governs regulations their own way, but production would be reduced if measures were not corrected. Producers recognize the importance and work closely with boards to meet standards. Ability to make this program mandatory is really helpful in making sure everyone is following the same rules and set of standards for both food safety and animal care.

“What we know with current influenza outbreak from CFIA is there isn’t a lot of lateral spread between farms. Is that because biosecurity standards are so effective? We hope so. But, we also know this is a very different virus than what we’ve dealt with in the past. So as we learn more about it, we will apply this new knowledge to the programs to adapt and pivot with new bacteria and viruses so we keep future flocks and farmers healthy and profitable.”

The bottom line

Kelton concludes that “biosecurity isn’t expensive per se – not a lot of cash outlay.

“It’s expensive from the perspective of human resources – labour and time. It’s about making sure people commit the time and the energy to do a solid job. Only then will you see the benefits.”

“It’s cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Something as small as monitoring those who come on-farm, and on a monthly basis that can be a lot. From your fuel truck, vet, farrier, tire repairs, equipment sales, semen sales, feed sales – limiting livestock exposure to them is going to be beneficial in introducing potential new pathogens,” says Atchison.

Girard reminds producers that “those interested in biosecurity practices are encouraged to visit the CFIA’s website for more information. In addition, provincial and territorial governments, and industry associations, are also a good source of information on biosecurity and animal and plant disease.”

As Jonathan Bos says, “biosecurity means profitability. Take a step back and evaluate, make a plan, and keep working towards better results.

“It doesn’t just figuratively pay you back; you see it in the bank.” BF

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