Suckler Herd Biosecurity
Biosecurity in the Suckler Herd
Biosecurity has become something of a ‘buzzword’ in the livestock industry in recent years. After two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease farmers will have experienced at first hand the need to protect their herds against a new and devastating infection. But we should also remember that there are a number of indigenous infectious diseases, widespread in the UK cattle population, which may also cause serious economic loss. Biosecurity refers to management practices aimed at keeping new infectious diseases off the farm. It also has a role in controlling the spread of disease between groups of animals within the same herd. Biosecurity is the cheapest and most effective method of disease control.
To protect the health of your herd it is important to draw up a biosecurity plan with the help of your vet. The risks associated with particular diseases entering a herd will vary greatly from one farm to another. The plan should focus on practical ways to assess and manage these risks. One of the first steps is to carry out tests to determine which diseases are currently present. Some herds, particularly those which have remained closed or have practiced good biosecurity in recent years may well be free of some common infectious diseases. This high health status is well worth making an effort to maintain.
Disease may enter a herd in many ways. Farm visitors, vehicles and equipment, purchased feeds, water courses, slurry and wildlife are all potential sources of infection. The greatest risk, however, is through purchased animals or direct contact with neighbouring stock. It follows that the most effective way to maintain good biosecurity is to maintain a closed herd. Unfortunately this is not always possible. A new bull is likely to be the most frequent introduction to a suckler herd although herd expansion may necessitate the purchase of other breeding stock. It is important to consider the diseases that incoming animals may be carrying or be exposed to when they arrive at a new farm. The health status of the herd of origin should be investigated with the help of your vet in an attempt to ascertain how this matches your own herd’s health status. Bovine Virus Diarrhoea (BVD) Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), leptospirosis, Johnes disease and TB, should all be carefully considered. Pre-purchase blood tests can be used to help establish disease status. However, remember that unless the individuals have been isolated following sampling, recent exposure to disease may have occurred which will not be detected by testing. For this reason, purchased stock should be kept quarantined from the rest of the herd and re-tested after at least 21 days. Incoming stock may be exposed to diseases on your farm to which they have had no prior exposure. In these cases a vaccination program can be used to give protection before they enter the herd. Footbathing can be carried out to reduce the risk of introducing digital dermatitis. Animals should be wormed and treated for ectoparasites on arrival. Venereal campylobacter can cause devastating fertility problems in a suckler herd and may be a particular risk when hiring bulls. It is advisable to sheath wash and treat new bulls prior to use to prevent transmission.
Once a biosecurity plan is in place, disease monitoring should continue. The plan should be regularly reviewed and if necessary updated in response to changes in farm management and health status.