Animal Health

Farm biosecurity preparation

By Gemma Chuck

WITH THE intensification of farming and threat of emerging antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans, the demand for more preventative health measures is increasing. This includes proactive planning around biosecurity. Biosecurity is defined as the risk of disease entering a herd. Biocontainment manages the spread of disease once it exists within a herd.

The aim of biosecurity and biocontainment planning is to mitigate the risk of new diseases and to manage the existing diseases within the herd. Diseases such as salmonellosis, bovine johnes disease, bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV, “pestivirus”) and Mycoplasma pose a significant biosecurity risk if inadvertently introduced. The consequences can be dramatic if the herd has not been exposed previously to the disease and thus overall herd immunity is low. Along with the animal health implications of these diseases, there is sometimes a significant risk to human health. Some strains of Salmonella are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans (and vice-versa), with Salmonella typhimurium being a major cause of salmonellosis in humans and cattle in Australia every year. In such herds, biocontainment of these zoonotic diseases is essential to avoid adverse effects on the human population.

There are four pillars which support the disease status of the herd and the cattle within it. Biosecurity alone cannot ensure herd health, but must be supported by robust surveillance, maintaining resilience of the animals within the herd, and control of disease within the herd. If all these pillars are strong, any infectious disease can be effectively managed and the disease status of the herd and the animals within it will be good. Any weak pillar may be supported by strengthening the others, but the overall disease status of the herd will inevitably be compromised.

When considering “farm biosecurity”, we frequently refer to a set of measures designed to protect a property from the entry and spread of pests and diseases. There are many resources available to assist farmers with biosecurity planning. Australia’s Farm Biosecurity program is a joint initiative of Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia ( ). Producing an on-farm biosecurity plan should be relatively simple yet the vast array of resources available can lead to confusion and non-compliance.

Veterinarians are well placed to advise producers about biosecurity, particularly as it pertains to animal health but in the past most have not been actively involved in this process. Vets can either endorse a plan that has been created by a farmer or create a customised plan for the farmer from scratch. Farmers might make their own plan using an advisor or using resources themselves. Vets would need to ensure that the plan covered the major recognised risks and be satisfied that the plan matched the purpose for which it was designed.

The Australian Cattle Veterinarians, a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association, has produced a software tool called BioCheck that incorporates the standard biosecurity principles and risks from Australia’s Farm Biosecurity program. A guided conversation looks at each biosecurity principle, the major risks and the actions that are undertaken to mitigate those risks. Each risk is then assessed as either controlled, partially controlled, or uncontrolled and agreed actions are documented. This process develops a customised biosecurity plan which is agreed upon with the individual farmer in an efficient manner. If you would like more information on biosecurity plans and the use of BioCheck, contact your local veterinarian (Please note: in order to have access to the BioCheck tool, your veterinarian must be a member of the Australian Cattle Veterinarian).

(Source: Australian Cattle veterinarians; Animal health Australia)

  • By Dr Gemma Chuck, a veterinary consultant for Apiam Animal Health, where she designs and delivers technical training programs for dairy farmers and veterinarians