The adage “The best offense is a good defense” has been applied to many fields of endeavor. It’s also known as the strategic offensive principle of war, so in terms of the war against foreign animal disease, the saying couldn’t be more applicable. For pork producers, that defense boils down to biosecurity.
“Biosecurity, by simple definition, is a means to prevent the spread of pathogens from one place to another,” says Andrea Pitkin, Health Assurance Veterinarian with PIC. There are protocols and processes that need to be followed, but Pitkin says biosecurity is a mindset, not just a series of actions. Fostering a biosecurity culture is foremost to its long-term success.
Every employee on the farm needs to understand why strong biosecurity procedures are critical to the farm’s success. When you explain first why biosecurity is important, everyone on the farm tends to take more accountability for their actions. When they know the underlying importance, they’re likely to be more engaged in how they can take specific actions to protect the farm and pigs.
“It’s so much more than processes on paper,” Pitkin says. “It’s the desire and determination to do the right thing to protect farms.”
Pitkin knows producers don’t have unlimited resources to invest in biosecurity, so they need to look at the most efficient use of their money, how to invest in the highest risk and how to focus on risks that are within their control.
“Where can you segregate and where should you decontaminate? You can get a lot of different answers, but incoming livestock need to be considered first,” Pitkin says. All trucking and transportation events also need to be well understood.
Don’t forget that people are a factor in terms of biosecurity concerns, because humans move animals and are frequently in and out of the buildings. They can also carry viruses into the buildings, so producers should be cognizant of that risk.
“And remember, just because something is low risk doesn’t mean it’s no risk,” she stresses. “Encourage your staff to pick the low-hanging fruit as it relates to biosecurity, have a plan in place for higher-risk situations and think through the low-risk concerns.”
Pitkin says it’s crucial for any farm bringing in live animals from outside sources to adhere to a strict quarantine and acclimation period before entering those animals into the main herd.
“We take a lot of responsibility and accountability [at PIC] in having excellent biosecurity practices and maintaining healthy genetics. But at the same time, things can happen when moving animals to a farm, and it’s crucial [for producers to] recognize that any incoming livestock can be a risk. Quarantine periods must be established and acclimation programs adhered to before mixing those animals in with your main herd,” she says. Work with your veterinarian to determine how long animals should be isolated and the best management practices to follow.
No Blanket Approach
Each farm is different in terms of management and facilities, so there’s no blanket approach to biosecurity. While biosecurity protocols have advanced along with the industry’s knowledge of how diseases spread, new technologies are still needed.
Pitkin believes the industry is taking a more holistic approach to herd health and biosecurity by looking at the combination of pathogens on the farm rather than each one separately. There’s also more emphasis on keeping pathogens out of buildings with filtration systems.
“Successful biosecurity measures include processes and procedures that have two or three stop points,” Pitkin says. “Biosecurity must be ‘bio-inconvenient,’ hence the two or three stop points to prevent disease transmission. That said, the stop points need to be feasible for the farm employees to implement. Pick the best biosecurity processes for your farm to make implementation as seamless and flawless as possible.
“We’d rather not have to deal with a disease than [to] have to treat for it,” she adds. “Whatever farms can do to protect themselves is critical to the health and success of the operation.”
Cultivating a mindset of sound biosecurity practices ultimately means better health for pigs, and more profit opportunity for producers.
Photo Courtesy of National Pork Board