For a cattle operation, risk is an everyday part of the job. But, taking a biological risk with the health of the cow herd is like risking the foundation upon which the whole business is built. Tragedy can hit, and it can hit fast. Biosecurity is about managing that risk and limiting any loss.
Bill Howard, a top notch Mississipp cattle producer, says several years ago he found both anaplasmosis and bovine leukemia virus in his cow herd. After testing and culling over several seasons, he now has a 100% negative herd for not only those diseases but also Johne's disease. He says it was an expensive cure. It's the reason he now has closed his farm to any live animals and brings in all new genetics through frozen semen or embryos.
Mississippi State University Extension beef cattle specialist Brandi Karisch notes Howard's program is exemplary. But, she adds, the average commercial producer is unlikely to take such stringent measures. That doesn't mean it's a good idea to disregard biosecurity.
"I tell people to just use common sense," Karisch says. "Biosecurity does not have to mean a lockdown." A few simple ways to improve biosecurity include:
1. Try to find a way to keep new animals isolated for a couple of weeks before turning them out with the rest of the herd. This will give you time to be sure they are healthy and to address any problems.
2. Consider the region you are buying from and test animals accordingly. In some cases, you will need to test for tuberculosis or brucellosis.
3. Always test bulls for trichomoniasis, commonly known as "trich."
4. If you're buying calves, remember that vaccinations are critical. Make sure you have those records, and if you're not sure, vaccinate them.
5. Test for bovine viral diarrhea-persistent infection (BVD-PI). These animals can take a big economic toll on your operation, long- and short-term.
6. Have cattle tested for Johne's disease.
7. If you take an animal to another location where they will be exposed to other cattle, don't let them share water troughs, and minimize nose-to-nose contact. This can reduce the chances they bring back a respiratory disease.
8. Be sure to change needles between animals whenever you are working cattle. If you don't, any blood-borne disease can be spread from animal to animal. This step is especially critical with regards to anaplasmosis.
9. Buy cattle from sources where you know vaccination and testing programs are up to date.
10. Remember that sale-barn animals have been exposed to more pathogens, so treat them accordingly.
11. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, have your herd veterinarian check out any new additions to the herd. While he or she is there, ask if they have any ideas about how you could improve your operation's overall biosecurity.
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