The introduction of infectious or contagious diseases remains an important concern for farms and ranches. Biosecurity practices are aimed at prevention of the introduction of infectious and contagious organisms onto animal facilities. Further, the spread of these agents from contaminated facilities should be prevented as well. In an attempt to gain insight into current “standards of practice” among veterinarians regarding biosecurity protocols, an electronic survey was conducted of private practice veterinarians working with livestock farms.

This survey was conducted using an electronic survey distributed using e-lists targeted at bovine practitioners and e-lists targeted at small ruminant practitioners. Practitioners were asked to provide details of biosecurity protocols they personally used when visiting client farms.

Veterinarians were specifically asked not to discuss idealized protocols, were discouraged from projecting what they thought an optimal program would be, or to discuss any practice they were not actually performing. Instead, practitioners were asked to describe specifically what they actually do on a day-to-day basis for biosecurity and to make specific reference to practice type, state, country, coveralls/aprons, boots, head covers, truck maintenance, separation of animals, facilities maintenance, needle use e.g. for vaccinations, instrument maintenance, and any other specific item.

Detailed survey data was obtained from 26 veterinarians working with bovine clients only (BV) and 27 veterinarians working in mixed-practices (MLA). Data was compiled and stratified by those practices aimed at personal hygiene, equipment hygiene, and farm or ranch control practices.

Personal hygiene practices

Personal hygiene practices included use of coveralls, boots, and hats. Of 26 BVs, 14 (54%) changed coveralls between farms, sometimes between buildings on the same farm, and 12 (46 %) changed coveralls “as needed” based on appearance of cleanliness. Of 27 MLAs, 13 (48%) changed coveralls between every farm, one (4%) changed coveralls between all cattle client farms, but only as needed based on cleanliness between small ruminant farms, and 13 (48 %) changed coveralls on an as-needed basis.

Data revealed that boots were cleaned and disinfected between farms by 22 (85%) of BVs and four (15%) cleaned boots as needed for clean appearance. Of MLAs, 22 (81%) cleaned boots between every farm, four (15%) indicated use of disposable boot covers, especially if a problem has been identified at the farm, and five (19%) cleaned boots on an as needed basis. Of those five, two cleaned boots after every cattle call, but only cleaned as needed for small ruminant farms.

Only two BV respondents indicated hat use; both wore the same hat to all farms without cleaning unless obviously dirty. Only two MLA respondents indicated use of a hat, both wore the same hat to all farms without cleaning unless obviously dirty.

Biosecurity practices

Biosecurity practices involving equipment included ambulatory truck maintenance, needle usage, and equipment care. Of 26 BVs, four (15%) washed their truck regularly (one  —   daily, three  —  weekly), three (12%) did not use their vehicle in animal areas, and 19 (73%) had no specific vehicle maintenance or cleaning program. Of 27 MLAs, five (19%) did not allow vehicle to drive onto farms, two (7%) cleaned truck weekly, and 20 (74 %) had no specific truck maintenance plan.

Needle usage data reported by BVs revealed that eight (31%) used one needle per cow, and nine (35%) used the same needle for multiple cows (range, one needle per four head to one needle per 20 head). Among MLAs, 10 (37%) used one needle per animal, and four (15%) used the same needle for multiple animals.

Instrument maintenance primarily involved field surgical equipment for laparotomy, dehorning, calf castration, etc.

Among BVs, 11 (42%) autoclave instruments and six (23%) used cold sterilization solutions or “sanitized” their instruments before use. Among MLAs, four (15%) indicated that instruments are autoclave sterilized and eight (30%) used cold sterilization or “sanitized” instruments before use.

Field biosecurity

Veterinarians provided a wide range of comments regarding factors that influence application of biosecurity principles in field settings, including:

  • Change rectal sleeves between pens.
  • Try not to leave windows down and spread flies.
  • Work with the most susceptible populations first, then move to the sick animals.
  • Let the individual client set the pace for this. If the client continues to buy cows from dealers and dispersal auctions despite warnings, I do not put clean coveralls on for his farm. In fact some of these type clients tell me not to do anything that will increase their call charge just for biosecurity reasons!
  • Use the clients’ supplies as much as possible.
  • Avoid going to a contaminated farm and a non-contaminated farm on the same day.
  • Wash hands.
  • Use as much disposable equipment as possible.
  • Eyeball health check of every animal every day.
  • Shear healthy sheep first then shear sick or sheep with known abscesses last.

The results of this survey suggest a wide variation in biosecurity practices among private practitioners. An interesting observation surfaced among responses from mixed large animal veterinarians. There appears to be a difference among species of livestock regarding the level of concern for hygiene. Mixed-practice veterinarians commented that biosecurity measures are most stringent for cattle operations as compared with those involving small ruminants.

This survey highlights the need for developing biosecurity practices that can be readily implemented in field settings such that they will be accepted by practitioners.

The challenges faced by large animal practitioners serving multiple clients on the same day create obstacles to acceptance and implementation of recommendations that are often created in controlled environments under strict oversight by individuals having specific training in biosecurity procedures.

This information was excerpted from the Kansas State University Fall 2009 Kansas Veterinary Quarterly.