Extra Layers

Keep Trouble Outside the Fence

Biosecurity is just another way of talking herd health, but the stakes have never been higher. (Stock photo by Russell A. Graves)

When Kniebel Cattle Company joined a value-added marketing program, it took a fresh look at its herd health plan. The Kniebels were concerned something as common as trichomoniasis or bovine viral diarrhea might be a stumbling block from which it would be hard for their operation to recover. As a precaution, they added an extra layer of biosecurity.

"Herd health is especially important to our bottom line now," said Mary Ann Kniebel, White City, Kan. She's plugged in to the issue of herd health as a member of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Beef Cattle Herd Security/BVD Working Group. The Kniebels also participate in U.S. Premium Beef's Naturewell program, which requires they use no implants, hormones or antibiotics the last 120 days of production.

Kniebel Cattle Company is a 136-year-old family operation with a 125-head registered Red Angus herd and a 500-head commercial cow/calf herd. They feed 800 to 1,000 head annually in their feedlot and have always sold finished cattle. They are a founding member of U.S. Premium Beef.

For Mary Ann, asking about biosecurity is just putting a new label on an old way of raising cattle.


"Most producers have always had a herd health program," she said. "Formally calling it 'a biosecurity plan' is something relatively new and not a term all producers use. Biosecurity is just the sum of all the actions you take to keep disease out, including quarantining new animals or keeping your cull cows along the fenceline where they may come into contact with other herds."

It all requires a plan and consistent attention to the details. That means keeping written records of all health strategies and interactions, as well as any contact with outside animals. Mary Ann uses a calendar on her smartphone to track activity but says a journal in the pickup works just as well. The information is shared among all four family members who work the herd so everyone knows what's going on and what to look for.

"It is impossible to remember exactly which vaccinations were given and when. Very few of us have total recall," she said. "We only have some of our herd through the chute once or twice a year, so it is important to document all health records at that time.

"You also have to document such things as if your neighbor's bull ends up in your pasture, or if a neighbor's herd gets trich. This lets you know if you need to respond with some proactive health protocol in your own herd."


Mary Ann stressed every operation is different, so there is no "one size fits all" biosecurity plan. The risk level is different for a part-time rancher with a few cows than for a seedstock supplier selling bulls in multiple states.

She encourages all producers to sit down with their veterinarians and go through BVD Consult (www.bvdconsult.com), an online tutorial that has a biosecurity plan template. By answering a series of questions, BVD Consult helps identify specific operation challenges, assesses risk and recommends solutions for disease control or prevention.

The Beef Cattle Herd Security/BVD Working Group is also establishing a herd security plan checklist for producers. Veterinarian Dale Grotelueschen, director of the University of Nebraska Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, said cattlemen should manage with an eye toward always improving health and productivity in their herds.

"By managing health risk, outcomes become more predictable," he said. "But your biosecurity protocol is never complete. Keep an ear open for emerging issues that could affect your herd or region. Being proactive is not a new game plan in our industry."


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate is working to improve real-time situational awareness of animal diseases. The new Enhanced Passive Surveillance (EPS) system includes mobile apps for vets to use during examinations to document animal observations, including clinical symptoms that match endemic and high-consequence diseases.

Producers should always report disease outbreaks to their local and state veterinarians. Some states require their department of agriculture be made aware of trichomoniasis, for example. Check with your veterinarian or local Extension agent for a current list of what diseases must be reported, and periodically check for updates.


Regardless of herd size or industry segment, Deke Alkire, Noble Foundation livestock consultant, said every operation can fine-tune biosecurity. She recommends:

Anticipate Threats. A virgin bull from a reputable breeder with a complete vaccination and treatment record is less of a threat than a freshly weaned stocker from the sale barn. Even healthy animals can carry disease. Gather information about the health-management and vaccination history before purchasing animals, semen or embryos.

No Commingling. Prevent fenceline contact for a minimum of 30 days when new animals are introduced to an operation. Do not use common feeding areas or water sources. Bulls and replacement females from reputable breeders may go into the herd quickly, but females with questionable backgrounds should be managed separately until confirmed pregnant. High-risk stockers should be managed separately for at least 45 days.

Limit Exposure. Pathogens are transmitted in many ways, not just nose to nose. Limit exposure by feeding sick or quarantined animals last. Dispose of dead animals properly as soon as possible, taking care to put carcasses where dogs and wildlife aren't able to reach them and spread pathogens. Clean equipment and clothes that may have been exposed to contaminated carcasses or ill animals. And don't forget that equipment can spread pathogens to water or feed sources because of fecal contamination.

Stress Sanitation. Keep facilities, feedbunks, processing equipment and trailers clean. Remove fecal material and bodily fluids after processing or hauling cattle. Dehorners, castration knives, oral tools and ear notchers should be disinfected. Palpation gloves should be changed between animals. Needles should not be used on more than 10 animals and may need to be changed more frequently for high-risk cattle.

Develop a Plan. Work with your veterinarian to develop a list of pathogens to monitor, test for and/or prevent in existing herds and purchased animals. Outline unique quarantine, processing and treatment protocols for your operation. Learn to identify foreign animal diseases, and have a plan to report them quickly. Understand which pathogens affect humans, and know their associated risks.