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Plan Before Your Next Disease Challenge in Your Beef Herd- Biosecurity Ideas That Work

Mon, 26 Aug 2019 08:55:19 CDT

Plan Before Your Next Disease Challenge in Your Beef Herd- Biosecurity Ideas That Work

Dr. Meredyth Jones is an associate professor in the food animal medicine and surgery division at the Veterinary Medical Hospital at the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Services. She offers the following overview of what biosecurity should look like on a beef cattle operation.

This summer, Oklahoma and the country dealt with a number of disease outbreaks, including Vesicular Stomatitis, anthrax, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. As most beef operations include horses, both cattle and horses faced potential threats.

Disease outbreaks highlight the critical importance of biosecurity procedures on every livestock operation. Biosecurity is procedures and plans designed to protect herds or populations of people or animals from diseases. We usually think of applying these plans to protect against infectious and contagious diseases, but non-contagious diseases should also be considered.

The introduction of any disease into a herd can cause devastating losses from impaired fertility to limiting growth and production to death losses. The most common approach taken by livestock producers to prevent these losses is vaccination. Vaccination limits the impact of disease tremendously and is an important part of any biosecurity plan. However, there are many more approaches that should be taken along with vaccination, which are highlighted by outbreaks of diseases like Vesicular Stomatitis, for which there is no vaccine.

Creating a comprehensive biosecurity plan starts with understanding how diseases are transmitted from animal to animal. Generally, the causative organism is transmitted by the fluids of the organ system it affects. For example, infectious diseases that cause diarrhea or other gastrointestinal diseases are spread through the feces. Pneumonia and other infectious diseases of the lungs are spread through respiratory secretions when animals have contact with each other. Infectious skin diseases are transmitted when animals contact each other directly or rub on the same fencepost. Reproductive diseases are often transmitted through breeding activity. There are diseases that donít fit this rule perfectly, but itís true in most circumstances.

So, when preventing diseases like calf scours, it makes sense to raise calves in wide open areas so calves donít easily contact each otherís feces. To prevent transmission of respiratory viruses from one group of calves to another, donít overcrowd or allow nose-to-nose contact across a fence. Unfortunately, especially in Oklahoma, we also have to consider diseases that are transmitted between animals by ticks and flies. An example is anaplasmosis, where the agent is in the blood and is transmitted through blood carried by the fly or tick to the next animal. This mode of transmission highlights one of the many reasons for an effective ectoparasite control program. Finally, some viruses and bacteria are tough enough to survive for a time outside an animal host. These can then be carried on truck tires, boots, clothes, tagging equipment, tack and other inanimate objects that come in contact with manure and other body fluids.

The most common breaches of biosecurity involve bringing new animals into the environment. Whether you purchase a new bull, a cohort of replacement heifers, a nurse cow, or an animal returns from a show, these incoming animals have been in a different environment than is native to the permanent herd and therefore, can introduce new pathogens. Even human visitors from other operations can bring things along with them. The stable, home herd may not have developed immunity to these disease agents, making them susceptible. It can happen in the other direction, too. The home herd may have immunity to certain pathogens that are around that the new animal hasnít been exposed to before. Itís like sending a child to daycare or kindergarten. Theyíve been at home and have immunity to whatís there, but then they go and meet new children, who come with a whole host of new and different bacteria and viruses, and they return home sick.   

The best way to prevent this type of exposure is to quarantine new or returning animals for 2 weeks to 30 days completely away from the home herd. Keeping them in quarantine also includes choring them last and washing boots to minimize transmission between them and the herd. Itís important to work with your veterinarian to determine what testing, vaccination and parasite treatments should occur while an animal is in quarantine and the length of quarantine. Other animals that should be quarantined are animals that become sick. Animals that die should be properly disposed of away from the herd. I also strongly recommend that when animals die without a known cause, a necropsy (animal version of an autopsy) is performed by a veterinarian to determine the cause of death and if it is something that could affect the whole herd.

Finally, nothing protects the herd better than ensuring that they have a strong immune system. Protein and trace minerals play direct and critical roles in immunity. A custom vaccination plan against the diseases with the most potential to enter your operation makes sure cattle are ready if thereís a breach. Solid cow immunity through nutrition and vaccination also ensures that calves nurse quality colostrum and get early protection when they are young and naive and just getting their immunity charged up.

Unfortunately this summer demonstrated how effectively some diseases spread through livestock operations. So far, there have been 665 premises quarantined for Vesicular Stomatitis in Oklahoma and other states in the region. The cost of working and testing animals, the loss of productivity from the effects of disease, and the loss of ability to move animals for an extended period can be economically devastating to an operation. Look at your operation and consider current ďholesĒ where disease can sneak in. Is your daughter traveling on and off the property with her show steer? Do you have a neighbor with stocker calves across a fence from your brood cows where they can have direct contact? When you retrieved your bull that jumped the fence and was in with the neighborís cattle for a day, did you have your veterinarian test him for trichomoniasis before you put him back with your cows? When you bought that set of heifers and the seller said they had, ďall their shots,Ē did he tell you exactly what they had and when? Did you purchase a nurse cow from the sale barn or neighbor? Take charge of your own herdís biosecurity by working directly with your veterinarian to develop a plan.

Source- OSU's Centre for Veterinary Health Sciences    


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