Biosecurity: Keeping out the ‘black’ sheep

Things could be so much easier if sick or infected animals turned black to be easily identifiable but, alas, no such luck. Biosecurity is a frequently discussed topic, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic era, but somehow we still struggle to completely understand it … or are we just choosing to ignore the advantages of implementing a biosecurity programme? How can we implement biosecurity on our farms to protect our animals without breaking the bank?

Living through a pandemic fundamentally changes your world view. What is normal now was totally unknown a few months ago. I see this as an opportunity to review the boundaries we set for ourselves and to reconsider our normal approaches on-farm. We have all experienced social distancing and self-quarantining. Now that we know what it means and entails, why not apply some of these principles when dealing with our animals?

What is biosecurity?

To understand the advantages that a biosecurity programme can offer, we need to understand what it is. A biosecurity programme is a set of procedures that are followed to control the spread of infectious diseases. The programme aims to reduce the risk of a disease entering a property, spreading through the resident livestock population, and being passed on to surrounding livestock populations, i.e. to prevent new diseases from entering the farm and existing diseases from exiting the farm.

Alert levels

We have seen the effects of the quarantine measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Farmers can follow similar principles when implementing a biosecurity programme, so let’s discuss the different
biosecurity levels.

biosecurity alert levels

Practical implementation

We should aim to operate on Level 2 or 3 to keep our flocks and herds safe. Deciding where on the spectrum you are willing to operate will help you decide what measures to implement. This will also help you to better understand information on biosecurity.

When deciding to implement biosecurity measures on the farm, you should make it clear to the public and your farmworkers that the programme is vital. Decide on one or two rules to follow and then add new rules as needed but remember to help your farmworkers to understand and learn the current rules before implementing new ones.

Be consistent. Even if it is only one small step in the right direction at a time, persistence will bring improvement to the farm. Don’t be ignorant about biosecurity; start thinking about it before it is too late and costs you your profit!

Anri Strauss is a scientific adviser in the ruminant team at Chemuniqué, holding a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Pretoria. She grew up on a farm and still lives in the Free State, where she and her husband also farm with Boer goats.

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