Put A Lock Down

March 22, 2009 07:00 PM
Veterinarian Ted Dahlstrom, who practices in Monett, Mo., draws blood on a cow to test for brucellosis. Testing is just one
element of a biosecuitry program.

Consider taking in lightweight cattle between 300 lb. to 400 lb. that are just pulled off their dams and herded into a backgrounding yard. If you've ever tried to manage a group of cattle like this, you know the potential for a coming wreck.

For James Gray, a backgrounder in northeast Missouri, this is a regular purchase for his backgrounding yard, yet he's managed to keep death loss to 0.5% to 1%. He is humble about what a feat that is—he knows his accomplishments are due to biosecurity protocols, which he describes as "just common sense.”

Biosecurity has been a buzzword in the cattle industry for a few years now. It's used to describe not only agro-terrorism prevention, but also a necessity in an overall herd health program. And while it sounds complicated, it's actually a commonsense approach to keeping herds healthy from both domestic and foreign animal diseases through a system of preventive methods.

"Biosecurity is the first step in herd health, which directly affects the profitability and well-being of every herd,” says Dan Goehl, veterinarian and owner of Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo.

"The well-being of the animals and the associated financial cost of a herd health problem are the primary reasons to set up a protocol. It is much easier and economical to prevent entrance of a disease than to rid a herd of disease. In some operations it is not a matter of if, but when, cattle will be exposed,” Goehl adds.

Bonus content:

Need help to set up your own biosecurity program? Begin by consulting your veterinarian. Also click here to download a biosecurity checklist (pdf) from the University of Nebraska Extension titled "Biosecurity Basics for Cattle Operations and Good Management Practices for Controlling Infectious Diseases."
How do infectious diseases spread? According to the University of Nebraska guide on Biosecurity Basics for Cattle Operations, infectious diseases can be spread by:
  • introduction of diseased cattle or cattle incubating disease;
  • vehicles, equipment, clothing and shoes of visitors or employees who move between herds;
  • direct contact with contaminated inanimate objects;
  • carcasses that have not been disposed of properly;
  • feedstuffs and impure water;
  • manure handling and aerosol-ized manure and dust; and
  • nonlivestock animal contact (with horses, dogs, cats, wildlife, rodents, birds and insects).
All of these factors can lead to the introduction of a disease, such as bovine viral diarrhea virus, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, Johne's disease, trichomoniasis, brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and foreign diseases like foot-and-mouth disease. Knowing the risk factors helps you develop a plan for prevention.

What's it going to cost? Often the biosecurity level of a herd can be increased with little to no expense to the operation, Goehl says.

"When we look at holes in current programs, it is often not that we need to do something 100% better, but that we need to do lots of things 1% better.”

And that's how Gray's program works. It doesn't really cost any more to implement his strategy, not compared to how much it would cost if an entire group of cattle became sick or died. "It's really about all the little things you do. Those little details pay off,” Gray says.

So what does he do? He scrapes pens regularly, keeps feed bunks clean, consults his veterinarian regularly, gives vaccinations, keeps starting pens separated for new arrivals, provides good feed and plenty of water, uses straw and cornstalks as bedding and provides windbreaks for young animals.

He also knows the sources of the cattle he purchases and works with reputable order buyers. He buys cattle that don't have to be shipped too far, as he wants them shipped fresh, not standing in a holding pen for days.

Where to start? The best place to start is to work with your veterinarian to develop an overall herd health program. Your veterinarian will be aware of potential disease threats in your area, especially if you live in a place where there are only one or two large animal veterinarians. He or she can also determine if testing might be needed.

"There are several things that need to be evaluated to determine what program is suited for each operation,” Goehl says.

"The strategies needed for a seed-stock herd involved in embryo transfer work are completely different from those for a buyer of utility cows, and both are different from a stocker/grower operation.” BT

One Man's biosecurity plan

Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) causes big problems for cattle producers (see page 4). Bill Rishel, owner of Rishel Angus near North Platte, Neb., told attendees at the 4th U.S. BVDV Symposium in January that biosecurity is essential, not just for BVDV control, but also for overall herd health. Four key areas in a biosecurity program:

Cowherd records
These records are the first clue that there are potential problems threatening the herd, Rishel says. He looks at several areas:
  • Reproductive performance. Changes in pregnancy rates or live calf percentage can indicate that problems exist and help identify potential diseases.
  • Calf survivability. Calf vigor at birth, response to treatment and calf crop percentage at weaning are all areas to watch.
  • Calf performance. Weaning weight and performance help determine suspect animals. "We also perform necropsies of dead calves on occasion to help identify problems.”
Management strategies
  • Limit exposure to other cattle of unknown status. Rishel says it is also important to work with neighbors to communicate potential herd health problems.
  • Maintain the lowest possible animal density.
  • Raise your own replacements.
  • Know the source of purchased animals.
  • Isolate, test and vaccinate new arrivals.
  • Purchase bulls tested for diseases like BVD.

Establish a balanced nutrition program to boost immune response. "You can increase immunity through nutrition, which can often be overlooked in a herd health program,” Rishel says.

Vaccination protocol

Work with your veterinarian to develop a protocol that is effective for your operation. Rishel's ranch follows this protocol:
  • Give three doses of modified live BVD vaccine at preweaning, postweaning and prior to breeding.
  • Vaccinate purchased heifers. If there is a problem with BVD, for instance, vaccinate cows.
  • Weaned steer calves get at least one MLV-BVD shot, but two is better before going to the feedlot.

To contact Kim Watson, e-mail kwatson@farmjournal.com.

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