COVID-19, the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2–whatever you want to call it, I think we are all too familiar with it and are all ready to move on. However, before we move on, I think it would behoove us to stop and reflect on the lessons that we can learn from this experience. The more philosophical lessons pertaining to relationships, adaptability, resiliency, etc., may provide more infinite value, but the lesson I want to focus on today is biosecurity. Pre-COVID, for many people biosecurity was merely a word that was thrown around by academia, industry professionals, and the veterinarian. Now, whether we realize it or not, we are all intimately familiar with biosecurity–social distancing, face masks, and quarantine. This creates a great opportunity for us to Improve as we focus the knowledge that we have gained through COVID onto our livestock operations.
First, let’s backup and define what biosecurity is and why it is important. Simply put, biosecurity refers to measures that are implemented to decrease the spread of infectious disease. If we can reduce the transmission of disease, we can improve the health and wellbeing of our livestock, and hence, our operations. So, despite the angst that some associate with the biosecurity measures recommended during COVID, biosecurity really does create a win-win for our operations.
In addition, biosecurity is often not all that expensive to implement on our operations. Often, the more challenging part is merely changing our habits. For example, let’s talk about hygiene. The number one biosecurity measure shown to decrease the spread of human disease is hand washing. This is simple, right? Why is it so important? Because our hands touch everything, and everything we touch is touched by everyone else spreading the biological agents that cause disease. The same is true for our livestock; hygiene is critical.
So, what is “everything” that is touched by “all” of the livestock on our operations? In calves, we need to be thinking about the bottles, nipples, buckets, hutches, calf carts, etc. that are used for multiple animals. The calves cannot clean this equipment themselves; are we doing a good job for them? Or, are we leaving a biofilm in the bottles or not taking the time to clean hutches between calves? These calves are the future of our farm. There has been a plethora of research demonstrating that health events early in the life of our calves can be significantly detrimental to their performance throughout life. Let us take some time to make sure we are treating these babies right.
Shifting the focus from the calves into the parlor, what touches “every” animal here? The milking machines and milkers. Duh,right? Are we doing a good job maintaining our machines? Are our parlor prepping procedures and post-dipping as consistent? Have new employees been trained appropriately? Because of the focus that has been given to S. aureus, it is thankfully less of an issue today that it has been historically. However, other contagious pathogens like Mycoplasma and Prototheca seem to be more common. In addition, diligence to hygiene in the parlor will also decrease the incidence of non-contagious mastitis as well. Data shows that decreasing linear SCC by one half will increase first lactation production by 200 pounds per lactation and second lactation and greater production by 400 pounds per lactation. This production data speaks to the profitability of implementing sound biosecurity and hygiene practices.
If we move back outside to biosecurity around the around the operation, there are areas of opportunity here as well. Are driveways and feed bunkers maintained or are we tracking mud and manure from these areas into the barns and feed alleys? Do we use the same loader bucket to fill the TMR and the manure spreader? What about birds and rodents? Or, maybe you think these aren’t a big deal? What if I would tell you that in the mid-1300’s the bubonic plaque, carried by rats and fleas, killed one in three Europeans? Currently, COVID has killed 70 out of 100,000 people in the US and we think it is a big deal…maybe rodents and biosecurity are a bigger deal than we think.
I don’t know that we need to discuss putting face masks on all of our livestock, however, I do think that we could continue discussing other aspects of biosecurity. Yet, in the essence of your time, maybe we will table this discussion for another issue. Maybe then I will have a few answers instead of only questions. Maybe then COVID will be over.
This article appeared in the Dairy Dispatch Volume 13, Issue 3 published by Kansas Dairy