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Biosecurity: It's Everyone's Responsibility

Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator

June 27, 2014

The Midwest's ongoing battle against the Avian Influenza outbreak has brought attention to the importance of biosecurity, both on-farm and among those who may travel between multiple farms in a day. A general definition of biosecurity is, "a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases in crops and livestock, quarantined pests, invasive alien species, and living modified organisms" (Koblentz, 2010). The Environmental Protection Agency defines biosecurity as, "the protection of agricultural animals from any type of infectious agent -- viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic." In short, biosecurity includes practices that keep livestock safe from infection, and should prevent the introduction of disease agents into the herd.

Biosecurity should be at the forefront of dairy producers' minds considering there are many different people coming to the farm on a regular basis (milk truck driver, feed truck driver, veterinarian, etc.). This also is the time of year when dairy farms are hosting various events for the public and fellow producers, as well as sending cattle off to county fairs and shows. Proper biosecurity will keep not only our own animals safe, but others' animals as well.

Biosecurity may be something that doesn't always take priority on the farm, or it may fall into that grey area of, "it's someone else's responsibility, not mine." However, it is your responsibility - it's everyone's. Any person that comes on to a farm is responsible for keeping that farm safe from the spread of infections. This includes the farmers, as well as salespeople, veterinarians, truck drivers, and even Extension Educators. Dairy farms should have a multi-faceted biosecurity plan to keep risk to their cows as low as possible. Here are some different areas and situations to consider:

Purchasing Cattle

First, know from where you are buying the cattle. Does that farm have a disease history you should be aware of? Diseases like Johne's can easily be brought into herds by new animals with the producer being completely unaware. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions or even require negative test results before the transaction is complete. Ideally, newly purchased cattle should be separated from the rest of the herd in a quarantine pen upon their arrival at the farm. This can serve two purposes. First, it gives you time to observe the cattle for any signs of disease. Or, if you've opted to have some testing done, it gives you a place to keep the cattle until you know for sure they are safe to be exposed to your cows. Second, it will give the purchased animals time to acclimate to their new environment. This is also the time to give the cattle any vaccinations they may require that weren't administered by the previous owner. Quarantines may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. As always, you should consult with your veterinarian before you bring the purchased animals home to discuss your plan for quarantine, testing, and vaccinating.

Vehicles and Equipment

Probably the most recognizable source of a potential biosecurity breach is vehicles and equipment coming to and from the farm. Some regular, inevitable visitors to your farm may include the milk truck, the feed truck, your veterinarian, and farming equipment from entities doing custom work. There are also less regular visitors who may be driving on to the farm. Whenever possible, direct vehicles to a designated parking area that is away from your livestock. For vehicles that may need to come farther onto the farm and around livestock housing, consider marking an area near the entrance/exit for incoming and outgoing vehicles to disinfect their tires. This will not only keep your farm safe, it will also keep the next farm that vehicle is visiting safe.


Similar to vehicles, you will have a core group of people who visit your farm on a regular basis. These people should be aware of your biosecurity practices, including wearing clean clothing and footwear. Similar to having an area to disinfect tires, you should have an area where boots can be washed and disinfected - most of your regular visitors will have their own buckets and soap, they just need access to water. A designated hose for washing up will encourage disinfecting of footwear, and is a nice courtesy. For farm visitors that don't regularly come to your farm, post a sign that your farm is a biosecure area and direct them to an office or area on the farm where they should check in. Controlling who's on your farm and knowing when they are there will help prevent the spread of disease.

Biosecurity is everyone's responsibility, and - as always - it starts with the cows. Making sure they are in a clean, safe environment and are administered regular preventative vaccinations can ensure there is never a disease outbreak on your farm. If you have questions about biosecurity practices or are curious about preventative measures, contact your veterinarian.

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