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Jeremy Daubert, Extension Agent, Rockingham County, jdaubert@vt.edu

Biosecurity on a dairy farm requires a plan to minimize the risk of disease outbreak. Some farms consider themselves to be “closed” herds, but even these herds need to take steps to reduce the risk of an outbreak. Unless no people, wildlife or vehicles ever enter the farm, it’s not truly a “closed” herd. Farms that do not regularly bring in outside animals are still at risk.

The first step is a written Biosecurity and Disaster Plan. Being prepared ahead of time will help everyone involved know how to handle a situation. Animals on the farm should be managed to maintain a high level of health using vaccinations and properly balanced diets.

According to the USDA, the following is a list of animal management procedures:

  • If possible, keep animals that are new to the farm in a separate holding area. A quarantine period should be established to facilitate monitoring and testing the health status of new animals. This will also help to prevent the spread of disease to the existing herd from animals that might be harboring a disease without exhibiting any clinical signs.
  • Young animals should be kept in a separate area from more mature animals to minimize the exposure of more susceptible animals.
  • Keep an isolation area that is intended for only sick animals.
  • Meet the standards for pen, stall, or bedded area space per animal in your care.
  • Always handle sick animals last.
  • Vaccinate farm dogs and cats against rabies to protect humans and animals. Consider vaccinating livestock, too.
  • Prevent fence line contact between your livestock and other animals.
  • Remove manure and bedding and disinfect pens, especially maternity and sick pens, between animals.
  • Keep water sources protected from contaminants and clean waterers once a week.

Additionally, sanitation is very important! Vehicles that enter the farm should be clean and loading areas should be near the road and away from the barn areas. Equipment that is used to treat sick animals should be cleaned and disinfected before being used on another animal. Employees who work with sick animals should frequently change and wash clothing and maintain clean hands or wear gloves. Separate equipment should be used to move manure and feed. Service vehicles should not be able to drive through manure and feed alleys.

Finally, if animals are purchased, it may be prudent to not only vaccinate and separate the new animals, but also to test them for common cattle diseases. The following are the most common—and if you are drinking raw milk out of the tank, be mindful that some diseases can be transferred to people via unpasteurized milk:

  • BVD virus (Bovine Viral Diarrhea);
  • Johne's disease;
  • Mastitis caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus agalactiae and Mycoplasma bovis (lactating cows);
  • Bovine leucosis.

Remember, if you haven’t tested them, then you don’t really know if they are carrying any of these diseases—and that goes for the cows currently in the herd, as well.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

September 29, 2016

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