Biosecurity for Your Flock

By Dr. Kenneth M. Andries, PhD
Former Livestock Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Biosecurity is a three step procedure designed to help you protect your flock from disease. Producers that implement and maintain this three step program will reduce the risk of introduction and/or spread of an infectious agent on their farm. Unfortunately, no program can totally prevent disease, so a good biosecurity program also includes treatment programs along with the prevention to maintain a healthy flock.

Start by getting your veterinarian involved with this program and putting together a total flock health plan. The health plan needs to include both vaccinations and treatment options for your flock.

The three steps of the biosecurity program are isolation, resistance, and sanitation. These steps work with and should be part of your flock health plan.You also need to consider these when planing the layout of your facilities.

Considerations for a quarantine facility for animals entering and leaving the flock and flow of feeding and cleaning activities need to be considered.

1.  Isolation is one of the most critical parts to preventing the introduction of a disease agent into your flock. Because diseases have varied incubation periods, healthy appearing animals may be carriers of disease.

  • All purchased or returning animals should be isolated in a quarantine area for one month before being put with the flock. This will give you time to observe for signs of disease and treat any problems that may be occur.
  • You should also use the quarantine pens to hold animals to be picked up by others, this prevents possible exposure of your flock to other animals and animal waste from the trailer.
  • The quarantine pen needs to be located away from the flock where there can be no nose to nose contact between animals in quarantine and the rest of the flock.
  • There should also be a separate water and feed source for this pen. Drainage and cleaning paths, from the quarantine pens, should not cross the area where the main flock is housed.
  • Feeding and cleaning paths should never cross.

2.  Resistance is very important to your flock health and the biosecurity of your animals.

  • We need to build resistance in our animals to all the common diseases we may be exposed to through normal activities.
  • Vaccinations that are part of the herd health program and use of foot baths are a big part of this resistance program. The other parts are nutrition and environment.
  • Animals need proper nutrition to help prevent disease. Minerals play important roles in antibody production so make sure you have a good mineral mix that is providing trace minerals in the proper amounts for your animals.
  • The environment is also important to prevention of disease. A clean dry environment reduces stress on the animals and this will help them fight off disease.
  • Providing protection from strong wind, rain/snow, and heat is important to your animals health. We can help prevent these problems by providing appropriate shelter to the animals. This shelter can be natural shelter or the use of sheds of proper sizes for the flock. Check the local laws on animal care to prevent legal problems associated with shelter. While shelter needs to be provided, we must be very careful when keeping animals in barns for long periods of time.
  • Conditions deteriorate rapidly in confinement and without regular cleaning and proper ventilation animals can become more stressed.

3. Sanitation. Research has found that most disease causing organisms can survive for a set period of time outside a host. It has also found that the presence of organic matter increases this time period. This fact makes sanitation vital to a biosecurity program and it plays a role in reducing of stress on the animals.

  • Keep holding pens, wintering grounds, lambing pens and jugs as clean as possible. You should also disinfect pens and holding areas between uses. Lambing pens need special care because newborns are the most susceptible to disease.
  • When considering sanitation, remember that we cannot disinfect organic matter, so we must clean surfaces of all dirt, feed, manure, etc before disinfecting.
  • When cleaning don’t forget your shoes and clothing. Coveralls should be warn around the barn and removed to help keep your clothing clean. Clean and disinfect boots or use disposable plastic boot covers to protect your shoes. You should do this and require visitors and helpers to clean and disinfect their shoes. Shoes should be clean before entering a farm and should be cleaned again before leaving.
  • Other objects being used to handle animals or clean facilities should also be cleaned between uses. This includes scrapers use for manure removal.
  • Disposal of dead animals is another part of sanitation. We need to remove all dead animals as soon as they are found. Use a scoop or gloved hand to move these animals and clean and disinfect the area. Disinfect the scoop, your hands, change coveralls, and clean and disinfect shoes after removing the animals.
  • Animals to be removed include dead rodents and birds as well as livestock in this manner. Dispose of the carcasses in an appreciative manner as required by state law.

When planning for a biosecurity program you will need to evaluate the risk of disease facing your flock.  There are many different diseases out there. Be sure to ask questions before purchasing animals.

  • Ask what vaccinations the animals have received and how recently. Ask about foot rot problems and look over the entire flock, not only the animals you are considering purchasing for signs of problems.
  • Talk to your veterinarian and learn what disease are common in your area and where you are purchasing from. This will help reduce the chance of bringing something into your flock.
  • Keep track of major outbreaks of disease in your area to be prepared but be sure to evaluate the risk, remember all the facts may not be presented on the daily news. Work closely with your veterinarian and practice a sound flock health plan.

Biosecurity is a practical, do-able program involving three steps of isolation, resistance, and sanitation to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases in your flock.

  • Isolation of new and returning animals helps prevent disease introduction.
  • Resistance is built through proper feeding and reducing environmental stress along with a sound flock health program including vaccinations and treatment programs.
  • Sanitation is the anchor of the program. Through proper sanitation we prevent contamination of water, feed, and the spread of disease causing agents through the herd.

We can not prevent animals from becoming ill, however a good prevention program is better than the best treatment available.