University of Vermont

Healthy Farms - Healthy Agriculture

Introduction dairy cow photo by Krista Cheney, link to home page

Introduction

Healthy farms contribute to the health of agriculture as a whole. In Vermont and other states where the agricultural character of the land attracts tourists, healthy farms go hand in hand with the health of the state's economy. To ensure the sustainability of animal agriculture, farmers implement health programs to maintain the highest health status possible in their herds, follow biosecurity practices to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases, and implement biocontainment strategies to minimize the spread of disease among animals on the same premises. This Web site contains important tips on how to enhance biosecurity on livestock farms, focusing on issues common to the management of dairy cattle in the northern United States.

Web Site Overview
Why Biosecurity?

Web Site Overview

The materials provided here focus on biosecurity issues—how to prevent the introduction of infectious disease into a herd. The information is organized as follows:

Who is responsible for a farm's biosecurity?

Assessing a farm's biosecurity risks and developing a management plan should be done by herd managers in consultation with the herd's veterinarian or other advisers. The cooperation of visitors and agri-service personnel is also important. Ultimately, farm managers are responsible for developing and implementing protocols to keep their premises biosecure.

Disclaimer

The guidelines and recommendations contained on this Web site are generally accepted as best management practices. However, adopting these practices does not imply or guarantee that your farm will be protected from all potential diseases. The information on this Web site is provided purely for educational purposes. The University of Vermont assumes no responsibility for the content of the Web sites listed within. Note that endorsement of products or companies is not intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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Why Biosecurity?

Biosecurity is a system of management procedures designed to prevent or greatly reduce the risk of introducing new diseases to a farm. A related concept is biocontainment, management practices directed at reducing the risk of spreading an existing disease between animals. Biosecurity is a whole farm approach to herd health management. The risks to herd health must be assessed, prioritized, and addressed. Risk can be categorized by source of possible infection (e.g., other livestock, visitors, or wildlife), area of the farm (e.g., maternity pens, facilities for newborns and youngstock, and feed storage areas), or by susceptibility of animals (e.g., baby calves, youngstock, and periparturient cows having less competent immune systems than most lactating cows).

The threat from "foreign" animal diseases

Outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) in countries previously free of these diseases have captured headlines. Poultry flocks infected with Exotic Newcastle Disease were depopulated due to outbreaks in the US in 2003. The emotional distress and economic devastation of such calamities is enormous. Farmers around the world wonder how secure their operations are. The best protection against such diseases is the regulation of animal feed sources and animal movements. Veterinarians trained to recognize foreign animal diseases are our front linemen in blocking their advance into the US. Typical on-farm biosecurity practices are not adequate to prevent highly contagious diseases. However, by following biosecurity practices you can protect against many disease threats to your herd and livelihood.

The threat from "American" animal diseases

Despite the visibility of foreign animal diseases and heightened concerns about bioterrorism, we shouldn't overlook diseases already present within US borders. Some of these may already be on your farm and pose a risk to the health of your animals and farm visitors. It is important to the sustainability of animal agriculture that farmers maintain the highest health status possible in their herds or flocks. They must protect against the introduction of infectious diseases, and manage their operations to prevent the spread of disease among animals on the same premises. The management practices that address these three issues are herd health, biosecurity, and biocontainment.

The importance of maintaining healthy animals

Consumers expect farmers and farm employees to take good care of the animals that they work with for a living. In addition to maintaining an optimal environment for their livestock, consumers expect farmers to maintain the quality of soil and water around their farms. Farms that practice high standards of animal husbandry and environmental stewardship are likely to be healthy farms. In the state of Vermont where tourism is a major source of revenue, and the agricultural character of the land is a big draw for tourists, healthy farms go hand in hand with healthy agriculture and the health of the state's economy.

The importance of communicating your plan

The materials on this Web site have been designed to assist you in developing a biosecurity plan for your farm. After you have a plan, it must be communicated to all persons who work on or visit the farm. Meetings, signage, and consistent enforcement will make the plan effective. An effective plan will go a long way in protecting your investment in your livestock operation.

It is my sincere hope that these materials will encourage you to do your part to maintain healthy farms and healthy agriculture in Vermont.

To your farm's health.

Dr. Julie Smith

Julie Smith, DVM, Ph.D
UVM Extension Dairy Specialist
Burlington, VT
September 2003
Updated June 2010

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Last modified October 06 2010 08:23 PM

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