Prevention Is Your Best Measure Against Disease

Published on Mon, 02/06/2023 - 3:09pm

Prevention Is Your Best Measure Against Disease.

 By Stuart Heller. Article courtesy of Neogen.

 During the course of our days, we may come across some “universal truths.” Two that stand out to me are, “don’t ask of others what you wouldn’t ask of yourself”, and “treat others as you’d like others to treat you.” But in my business life (the world of food-animal production) I have two other favorites; “biosecurity doesn’t cost, it pays” and “prevention is your best measure against disease.”

Now, I’ll admit I’m a little biased. I’ve been in the disease prevention business since the mid 1980’s, manufacturing chemicals and developing programs to prevent the introduction of infectious disease in the livestock production industries. But if you’re a cattle producer, these truths should also be important to you.

The importance of disease prevention, or biosecurity, cannot be overstated. We hear it discussed at every seminar and trade show we attend, and we read about it in every trade publication. Why? What makes it so important? It’s because at its core, the ability to prevent, rather than treat, disease will enhance the health and performance of your herd. Knowing this, what are some of the ways we can improve upon existing biosecurity protocols to better prevent the introduction of disease?

Through the years I’ve taken to calling this “adding layers of biosecurity.” We can accomplish this by having a biosecurity plan in place that includes things like:
• Unloading new animals in an area that is isolated from the rest of the herd
• Observing cattle for signs of sickness
• Cleaning and disinfecting equipment between uses
• Cleaning and disinfecting trailers and equipment before loading a new group of animals
• Installing footbaths at room/building entrances
• Providing clean spaces to clean hands, boots, and equipment
• Proper training of use of cleaner and disinfectant products

Maybe you already practice some biosecurity measures—that’s great! Biosecurity is essential to herd health and an operation’s profitability, so it’s important to put these practices into an overall biosecurity plan. To be successful, the plan should be understood and used by everyone on the operation, every day. Some of the key areas to manage include:
People — The employees and workers are key to a successful plan. It is essential that they understand the plan and agree to execute it.

Animals — Record keeping, observation, excellent husbandry practices, control of resident animals’ access to new herd mates, and knowing where those animals are coming from are just a few of the areas to be considered in the plan.

Facilities, Equipment and Vehicles — Properly maintaining buildings, equipment, fencing, etc. can go a long way in helping stop the spread of disease.

Feed and Water — Limiting the opportunities for fecal-to-oral transmission of pathogens to animals and ensuring a reliable source for both feed and water can help mitigate your operation’s exposure.

Pest Control — Developing a strong integrated pest management program, including working with your consulting veterinarian on a coordinated insect management plan, not only limits your operation’s exposure to potential insect threats, but it also keeps those pesky flies and other insects from bothering you.

Waste and Deadstock — Similar to feed and water, plans for proper removal and management of waste and dead livestock play a large role in limiting cross-contamination.

We spend a lot of time talking about the transportation sector. Why? Because this is the hub. At some point during the production process every animal is transported somewhere on some type of vehicle. The importance of breaking the cycle of cross-contamination here is critical. We know from our experience in pork production that there are huge amounts of time and resources devoted to trailer biosecurity. Every live haul trailer is flushed out to remove gross soils, high pressure washed for a more detailed cleaning, disinfected, and even heated or “baked” prior to loading.

In cattle production, this might translate into more intensive disinfection of trailers and sorting equipment and more attention paid to tires, undercarriages, and truck driver biosecurity protocols. What type of protective footwear should they wear? If they’re wearing plastic pull-over boots, are they double layered? If they’re double layered, when does the outside boot get removed? These are all questions that need to be addressed when developing a strict, comprehensive biosecurity program.

It is also recommended to use cleaning and disinfecting products in a specific order, not just randomly, based on which one was handy at the time. Always use a cleaning product first, to remove any organic material that will inhibit the “germ killing” action of the disinfectant. It’s important to understand the way the disinfectant works to ensure the product is given enough contact time to do its job, and that it’s the correct product for the surface you are working with. In combination, these chemistries create a very difficult environment for the survival of most infectious diseases.  

The take home message:
Biosecurity is not easy. There is no black box to hang on the wall, no button to push that addresses all the challenges. There are just so many modes of transmission: People, cattle, air, water, vehicles, equipment, rodents, insects, and more.

The real challenge is to create a culture of biosecurity on the operation so that employees don’t just carry out the tasks we’ve asked of them, but have a true understanding of the importance of biosecurity and the role they play in it.

An early mentor of mine, Dr. Harry Moberly, said it best:   
“It is the nature of man to find cure more compelling than prevention. But in the science of biology, prevention is your best measure against disease.”