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Biosecurity on the Farm

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The recent epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease in the United Kingdom should be a wake-up call for all farmers. It's terribly easy for a highly contagious disease to infect thousands or even millions of animals, in this era of easy and fast transportation. We should all take a lesson from this tragic episode and check our biosecurity measures on our farms.

What is biosecurity? It's managing your farm so that you are less likely to have disease, whether that disease came from another farm or your own animals.

We had some biosecurity measures in place before the F&MD epidemic began, but certainly we took a hard look at them and decided on some actions that might enhance our security even further. Here's what we've come up with--notice there's the everyday measures and the epidemic measures.

Everyday Biosecurity

We do a number of things routinely to prevent illness in our farm animals:

  1. Reduce Stress
    • We study the nutritional needs of our animals and provide as exactly as possible what they need. Since we're converting to organic/sustainable methods of management, we feed dried kelp as a nutritional supplement of trace minerals.
    • We manage our pasture to increase the nutrients in the soil, and therefore the grass, so our sheep will have nearly all their nutritional needs met by grass.
    • We buy our hay from reputable hay farmers, and assess the quality of the hay before we take it home. We have our hay tested by the University Exension Service to determine the protein level so we know if we need to supplement with grain to make up what they need.
    • We provide shelter they animals can use if they wish so they aren't stressed by heat or cold.
    • We provide clean areas for them to live in, which lessens stress and pathogens in their environment.
    • We built strong fences that will keep many predators out, lessening stress for the animals.
    • Lambs are fed on their mother's milk until they are old enough to thrive on grass alone.

  2. Don't bring disease in
    • We buy new animals only from reputable raisers, and we check the animal's health history before purchase.
    • Even though we know our new animals are healthy, we quarantine them for 30 days anyway, to make absolutely sure that no disease not immediately noticeable is brought into our flock.
    • Visitors to our paddocks, fields, and barn will either wear plastic shoe covers we provide or will wash down their boots with disinfectant.
    • We minimize contact between our animals and those of other breeders. For example, we don't show because of the close confines of the pens.

  3. When animals are sick
    • When we notice an animal is sick, we make sure to isolate the animal immediately.
    • We take care of healthy animals first, then the sick, to make sure we don't accidently track pathogens from sick to healthy.
    • We disinfect equipment used with sick animals regularly.

Epidemic Biosecurity

There may be little a farmer can do when epidemics like Foot and Mouth strike. We do have procedures we plan to use if the worst should happen, though.

  • If an severe epidemic disease like Foot and Mouth should enter the state of Michigan, we will immediately stock up on food and other necessities and plan to stay on the farm as much as possible until the epidemic is over.
  • If we have to leave the farm, we will plan to change and wash clothing immediately upon return; footgear will be disinfected.
  • We will gate the two entrances to our land and require visitors to honk their horns for admittance.
  • Visitors from other farms will not be allowed during the epidemic.
  • Vehicle tires and the occupants' footgear will be disinfected before being allowed on our land.

Our goal with these biosecurity measures is to avoid illness in our animals as much as possible. We're not being paranoid, just cautious.

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