Creating a biosecurity plan for my dairy farm

Biosecurity is an everyday practice on most pig and poultry operations, but is it standard practice on your dairy farm? We spoke to the team at Neogen to learn more about biosecurity best management practices.
calendar icon 12 April 2021
clock icon 5 minute read

Why is biosecurity important on livestock farms?

Disease may not always be apparent especially in the early stages, and there are many ways disease can be introduced and spread. Livestock biosecurity is a set of measures that protect a population from infectious diseases at the national, regional and farm level. Its true value comes from helping farm owners manage risks to prevent infectious diseases and pests from entering livestock properties and to inhibit their spread from infected to uninfected property.

"Biosecurity is a word that has become firmly embedded in the agricultural vocabulary. In most cases, its meaning is interpreted as referring to the precautions that should be taken to prevent the introduction of disease onto a holding. In fact, biosecurity means much more than this. The term biosecurity actually embraces a complete concept of risk assessment and reduction which is aimed at maintaining and improving the health and, therefore, welfare, productivity and profitability of the herds and flocks that contribute to our livestock industry,’’ says Derek Armstrong, AHDB Lead Veterinary Science Expert.

Some diseases are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between humans and animals, so good biosecurity can also reduce the risk of disease exposure to farmers, farm workers, those who provide services on your farm as well as members of the public who may visit or be on your farm property.

What are the benefits of implementing good biosecurity practices on my farm?

The benefits include:

  • Greater productivity on your farm – farmers are investing in high quality genetics and feed, but poor biosecurity can easily negate that investment through poor efficiency and performance
  • Reduced risks to your farm – less diseases, pests and weeds entering your farm means less action for you to take
  • Early detection and management of any diseases or pests – catch problems before they take hold
  • Reduced costs if there is an outbreak of disease or pests – early detection and sound farm biosecurity practices may result in faster eradication and shorter quarantine periods

In relation to dairy farms, what does biosecurity encompass?

Many biosecurity recommendations are common sense, and some may be currently in practice on your farm. We all know that thorough and effective cleaning and disinfection will minimize the spread of disease between animals, but other basic biosecurity operating procedures can include protocols for:

  • Sanitation
  • Housing different animal groups
  • On-farm disinfection
  • Pen/hutch use and disinfection
  • Boot disinfection
  • Feed storage management
  • Facility maintenance
  • Disposal of dead animals
  • Animals - new animals or animals returning from shows increase between-herd risks
  • Visitors - can introduce new diseases or spread existing infections to more animals
  • Wildlife - concerns include feed and feed storage areas, water sources and herd living spaces

What’s the first step to implement a biosecurity program on my dairy farm?

The first step is to conduct an audit that will incorporate HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) principles into the day-to-day management of your dairy farm. HACCP is used to identify and control areas of the process where there is a risk of contamination. A key component of this is accessing and utilising your farm records, and we can’t over-emphasize how important record-keeping is to not only discovering risk gaps but to being able to measure improvements as you implement new protocols.

The audit looks at the following:

  • Breakdown critical contact points - housing for calves, dry cows, maternity/birthing, milking cows
  • Parlour - pipelines, bottlenecks, bends, valves, equipment
  • Storage - bulk tank, water and feed
  • Seasonal variations - “turn-out”/grazing
  • Water quality monitoring in relation to source (e.g., main or borehole) – buffers, hardness, debris and pH
  • Which products to use and in what way

An audit’s overall aim is to reduce your disease risk and help make your business more cost-effective.

What are the best ways to protect my herd?

Core to any biosecurity program is to keep a closed herd or to work towards a closed herd. However, it’s just not always possible, so follow these basic guidelines to minimize your risk:

  • Selection of purchased animals - Select all necessary purchased animals from known sources and health status equal to or higher than your own to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Strict isolation prevents contact between animals after arrival on farm and reduces the risk of spread of infectious agents.
  • Movement control includes all vehicle, animals and people traffic that could introduce infection onto your farm.
  • Sanitation addresses the cleaning & disinfection of materials, people and equipment entering the farm and the cleanliness of the people and equipment on the farm.

Consider other possible hazards and continuously identify/question disease pathways onto your farm:

  • Badgers and tuberculosis control - are there known regular runs, and can they be avoided or isolated with electric fencing?
  • Field conditions - can paddocks be rotated?
  • Lameness levels and walking surfaces - are the paths/tracks suitable, do they give enough traction for hooves? How can and/or should I footbath grazed cows?
  • Shared grazing with other animals/farms – consider immune suppressed animals (e.g., post- vaccination). Do the field borders offer enough separation between herds; consider double fencing
  • Seasonal risks - flies, midges, standing water

What types of products are available to protect my herd from infectious diseases?

It’s important to note there is no single product or list of products that can completely protect your herd. Simply put, biosecurity must become a mindset - a way of thinking and acting, not only for you but for your entire team of workers and service providers. And it starts with you – if it’s important to you, it will be important to others. We encourage dairy producers to take the first step and complete a farm audit. It can help highlight gaps in your current biosecurity practices and help you start to think differently about creating a measurable biosecurity program that will reduce the disease risk for your animals and the people on your farm.

Contact us @ [email protected] or visit our website to learn more about Neogen's Solutions.

Sarah Mikesell


Sarah Mikesell grew up on a five-generation family farming operation in Ohio, USA, where her family still farms. She feels extraordinarily lucky to get to do what she loves - write about livestock and crop agriculture. You can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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