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Biosecurity for cattle operations

Quick facts

  • Biosecurity practices and procedures reduce transmission of disease-causing organisms (pathogens) between and within farms.
  • A biosecurity plan can protect your farm from external pathogens and minimize the transmission of diseases within your system.

External biosecurity

  • External biosecurity refers to procedures and practices that reduce the transmission of pathogens from sources off of your farm.
  • This includes the management of routine visitors such as the milk truck, feed deliveries, custom harvesters, borrowed equipment, etc.
  • External biosecurity also provides for the management of bought or leased animals.

Internal biosecurity

  • Internal biosecurity refers to procedures and practices on the farm to prevent transmission of pathogens between areas of your farm.
  • Most harmful diseases within a farm transfer from older animals to younger animals.
  • An example of an internal biosecurity practice is to wash boots before entering the calf barn or to have an entirely different set of clothes for working with calves.
  • Washing boots or having separate clothes helps prevent potentially harmful organisms from being transferred from the cowherd to the calf population.

Why is biosecurity important?

Healthy animals

Using biosecurity practices decreases the chance of harmful diseases affecting your animals. Protecting your farm from outside pathogens helps your business to continue unaffected with productive, healthy cows.

Continuity of business

If a foreign animal disease outbreak occurred, having a day-to-day biosecurity plan could protect you from becoming infected before a disease is contained. Having an additional plan to increase biosecurity will help you to acquire permits when animal movement is restricted and keep your business running as usual during an outbreak.

Food Safety

Whether producing milk or meat, you are providing food. Having proper biosecurity will help to ensure you continue to produce food that is safe for the public.

How to start biosecurity on your farm

Determine the goal of your biosecurity

Is there a specific disease that you are looking to target that you already have? Is there a particular disease you are worried about acquiring? These are good questions to start with and can determine how rigorous your biosecurity protocols need to be. If you don’t have a specific goal, that is ok too. Ask your veterinarian for help.

Talk with your veterinarian and get them involved

Your veterinarian is one of the only people you work with that can comment on your entire system and how everything works together. They have specific biosecurity training that can help you develop a plan that targets your most significant transmission risks.

Make a plan

Writing down a specific protocol and set of practices is essential. You, your employees, and everyone else that visits your farm needs to have something they can reference. Even if the protocol is simple, write it down. Consider making materials that are visual reminders to yourself and staff, such as signs and posters. Your plan should include a way to measure whether or not it is having an effect once put into place.

See the Useful forms for cattle operations below to download fillable forms to help you plan.

Make sure everyone is on board

Biosecurity only works if everyone follows the protocols. One person that isn’t on board can derail the whole thing. Make sure everyone understands what to do and make sure everyone understands why it is important. When an employee knows why we are asking for something to be done and what impact it has, they are more likely to continue the practice.

Start the plan

Once the plan is ready to go, don’t procrastinate, put it into practice. The sooner it is in place, the sooner you can refine the protocols and identify problem areas that need to be resolved.

Check the plan

The only way to know the plan is being followed is to check. Often, actual practices tend to drift away from the original protocol. You need to continually check to make sure things are on track.

Evaluate your biosecurity plan

You should have a way to measure whether your plan is working or not. Do you see less of a specific disease than before the plan was put into place? Many times, when specific diseases are targeted, we can objectively measure how many animals are affected. If your plan has been given enough time to work, you can decide if you need to change your plan based on your evaluation. Ask your veterinarian for help with this step.

Useful forms for cattle operations


Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension cattle production systems educator

Reviewed in 2020

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