by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

One more result of the ongoing drought conditions in much of the mid-south is that many producers are selling significant portions of their herds. Sales are seeing record numbers of breeding animals changing hands and thus far prices have continued to be good. One main reason being is the quality of the animals being sold. Back during earlier drought years many truly cull animals were sold. This year cattle that would otherwise remain in the herds are being sold as producers cut even deeper in their numbers. This means that more of these cattle are going back into breeding programs and not to the packer.

Over recent years cattle producers have become increasingly aware of the need to take steps to insure the “health security of their herds.” Producers need to be increasingly aware of the effects of disease transmission as animals are introduced into their herds. Over the last few years, world events have created an interest and concern for keeping our livestock operations safe. The term biosecurity has been introduced over the last few years, primarily as related to the security of the health of the human population but we find there is a relationship here for cattle, swine, poultry, etc. Obviously taking steps to increase biosecurity is generally considered to be measures to reduce the chance of a terrorist attack of some type on a livestock operation. Generally we think of this as something that could take place in a large feedlot, swine or poultry operation. There are two things we have to understand. One, biosecurity is not simply restricted to large operations. Second, biosecurity is not only a matter of reducing the possibility of terrorist attack. It is also related to measures take to reduce the possible transference of disease on and off the many livestock operations in this country. With a higher than normal number of breeding animals being bought and sold, the potential for this incidence is increased.

Definition and Goals of Biosecurity

The goal of biosecurity is to stop transmission of disease-causing agents by preventing, minimizing or controlling cross-contamination of body fluids (feces, urine, saliva, etc.) between animals, animals to feed and animals to equipment that may directly or indirectly contact the animals on your operation. Biosecurity management practices are designed to prevent the spread of disease by minimizing the movement of biologic organisms and their vectors (viruses, bacteria, rodents, flies, etc.) onto and within your operation. Biosecurity can be very difficult to maintain because the interrelationships between management, biologic organisms and biosecurity are in many cases, very complex. While developing and maintaining biosecurity can be difficult, in the long term, it is the cheapest, most effective means of disease control available, and no disease prevention program will work without it.

Infectious diseases can be spread between operations by:

• The introduction of diseased cattle or healthy cattle incubating or carrying a disease;

• Introduction of healthy cattle who have recovered from disease but are now carriers;

• Vehicles, equipment, clothing and shoes of visitors or employees who move between herds;

• Contact with inanimate objects that are contaminated with disease organisms;

• Carcasses of dead cattle that have not been disposed of properly;

• Feedstuffs, especially high risk feedstuff which could be contaminated with feces,

• Impure or contaminated water (surface drainage water, etc.);

• Manure handling and manure and dust in the air

• Other animals (horses, dogs, cats, wildlife, rodents, birds and insects).

Develop a Biosecurity Resource Group

As we've discussed before, it's very useful for a producer to develop a “management team” that he routinely accesses to manage the operation. In the same way, development of a good biosecurity program can be implemented by first developing a Biosecurity Resource Group or Team. This group would include many of the same people you utilize on your management team and could include operation managers and supervisors, veterinarian, nutritionist, extension specialist, suppliers and others who may have special knowledge in control of biologic organisms. In most cases beef operations have typically been open to vehicle traffic and visitors. Of all the possible breakdowns in biosecurity, the introduction of new cattle and traffic pose the greatest risks to cattle health. Properly managing these two factors should be a top priority in your operation. Biosecurity plans should be developed to meet the specific needs of each operation.

Biosecurity has three major components which include isolation, traffic control, and sanitation. When effectively managed these components meet the primary biosecurity objective of preventing or minimizing cross-contamination of body fluids (feces, urine, saliva, respiratory secretions, etc.) between animals, animals to feed and animals to equipment.

Isolation prevents contact between animals within a controlled environment. The most important step in disease control is to minimize commingling and movement of cattle. This includes all new purchases as well as co-mingling between established groups of cattle. Even in operations that have high cattle turnover, such as feedlots, keeping feeding groups from mixing is an important biosecurity measure. Isolate feedlot hospital cattle and return them to their home pen as soon as possible. Long-acting treatments have improved our ability to minimize movement of infectious organisms between groups. An important biosecurity action on ranches is to separate cattle by age and/or production groups. Facilities should be cleaned and disinfected appropriately between groups. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on specific isolation management procedures and how they can be applied to control specific diseases.

Traffic control includes traffic onto your operation and traffic patterns within your operation. It is important to understand traffic includes more than vehicles. All animals and people must be considered. Animals other than cattle include dogs, cats, horses, wildlife, rodents and birds. The degree of control will be dictated by the biology and ecology of the infectious organism being addressed, and the control must be equally applied. Stopping a truck hauling cattle from driving onto your operation as a biosecurity measure for controlling BVD may not be particularly useful since the virus is spread from animal to animal. Buying cattle from herds that have a verifiable quality vaccination program would be more important in maximizing biosecurity. However, it would be important for the truck to have been adequately cleaned before hauling the cattle. Traffic control can be built into the facilities design. An example would be placing cattle loading facilities on the perimeter of the operation.

Traffic control within the operation should be designed to stop or minimize contamination of cattle, feed, feed handling equipment and equipment used on cattle. Pit silos should not be accessible from non-feed handling equipment such as loaders used outside the feeding area or vehicles that travel outside the feed mixing and handling facility. No one (manager, nutritionist, veterinarian, banker, etc.) should be allowed to drive onto the surface of a trench silo. The only equipment allowed should be the loader used for handling the feedstuff. In large pits, it may be acceptable to allow feed trucks to enter, provided they are loaded at least 100 feet away from the working face of the stored feed. If possible, separate equipment should be used for handling feedstuffs and manure.

Sanitation addresses the disinfection of materials, people and equipment entering the operation and the cleanliness of the people and equipment on the operation. The main objective of sanitation is to prevent fecal contaminates from entering the oral cavity of cattle. Equipment used which may contact cattle's oral cavity or cattle feed should be a special target. The first step in sanitation is to remove organic matter, especially feces. Blood, saliva, and urine from sick or dead cattle should also be targeted. All equipment that handles feed or is introduced into the mouth of cattle should be cleaned, including disinfection as appropriate, before use. Loaders used for manure or dead cattle handling must be cleaned thoroughly before using for feedstuff. It would be best to use different equipment. Minimize the use of oral equipment and instruments such as balling guns, drench equipment and tubes. If used at processing and treatment, thoroughly clean and disinfect between animals. Store cleaned equipment in clean, dry areas. Avoid storage in tanks or containers containing disinfectants because most disinfectants are neutralized by organic material. Disease transmission is commonly traced to the use of those storage tanks.

Good Management Practices for Controlling Infectious Diseases

Committing to a biosecurity plan is a important step toward controlling of infectious disease. Keeping pathogens out of a herd improves production efficiency, lowers costs and reduces risks to employees, family members and visitors. To help you with this, the following includes several checklists that could help identify specific areas for attention. Review the checklists and discuss each item with your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian to rank the biosecurity importance of each item (0=not important, 5= very important). Then check yes (Y) or no (N) if the item is being addressed.

General Good Management Practice (GMP) Checklist

Rank importance of each GMPs in biosecurity and note if being addressed:

____________Meet all of the Beef Quality Assurance Good Management Practices and Guidelines.

____________Understand it is more profitable to prevent problems than to correct problems.

____________Agree that doing things right the first time is a critical part of biosecurity.

____________Biosecurity requires some method of cattle identification. An identification system in place.

____________Can readily track and validate management practices used on my cattle.


Development of biosecurity plans will become increasingly important as time goes by. Obviously much of this is common sense but at the same time each component must be considered and evaluated in order to insure safety and security of our cattle operations. In the next issue, we'll include additional checklists that can be used to continue this plan development process.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs Texas. He can be reached by phone at (903) 352-3475 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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