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Biosecurity for Canadian Dairy Farms - Producer Planning Guide
2. Laying the Foundation of Your Biosecurity Plan

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A farm biosecurity plan identifies the biosecurity practices that are designed to manage the risks on your farm. Consideration should be given to farm layout, facility design and operational practices, along with the diseases of concern and their modes of transmission. All of these factors influence the risk assessment of your farm and determine which practices will be most useful in mitigating those risks. Developing a farm-level biosecurity plan is a team effort between you and your herd veterinarian and will be individual to each farm. A strong foundation must be laid before this plan can be built.
For dairy producers, a biosecurity plan aims to achieve three general goals:

  1. Exclude: prevent the introduction of disease-causing organisms (pathogens) to cattle on dairy farms.
  2. Manage: prevent the spread of pathogens among cattle within a dairy farm.
  3. Contain: prevent the spread of pathogens between dairy farms or from dairy farms to other animal populations.

The following steps are involved in laying the foundation of your farm's biosecurity plan:

  1. Create a diagram of the dairy farm layout and facility design, including the production areas.
  2. Designate biosecurity zones for the premises.
  3. Assign risk areas to the various production areas of the farm and outline the movement pathways.
  4. Establish goals for production and animal health.
  5. Determine the risk tolerance or intolerance to loss from infectious disease.
  6. Complete a rational risk assessment to determine what the disease problems are, including their magnitude, and how likely they are to occur. Specific diseases of concern should be identified.

The tools provided in this section will guide you through these steps.

2.1 Create a farm diagram

The farm layout and facility design can have a significant impact, either positively or negatively, on the biosecurity risks on your farm. Indeed, the farm provides the backdrop in which biosecurity must operate and directly influences both the need for certain biosecurity practices as well as the practicality of implementing them.

A farm diagram allows you to visualize the important aspects of the layout and design. You may already have a farm diagram as a component of other on-farm programs. If not, a simple farm diagram, depicting the layout of all of the facilities on the farm, can easily be created, either using a pad and paper, aerial photograph of the farm or a printed Google® map.

Figure 1: Sample dairy farm diagram
Diagram of a simple dairy farm site. Description follows.
Description of the sample dairy farm diagram

This figure shows a simple dairy farm site, comprised of one barn with a limited number of outbuildings. Facilities that may be present on the diagram include the farmhouse, driveway(s), barn(s), milk house, calf pens/hutches, pasture(s), parking lot(s), storage shed(s), feed storage/bins, manure storage and deadstock storage.

Consideration should also be given to creating a second diagram specifically of the production area(s), indicating:

  • milking parlour &/or tie stalls
  • milking cow housing area
  • heifer housing
  • maternity pen
  • dry cow housing
  • calf pen/hutches
  • isolation area
  • hospital pen / treatment area
  • loading chute
  • employee area
  • laneways/walkways
  • cleaning and disinfection facilities
  • chemical storage

It may be possible to include all of this information on one diagram, depending on the complexity of the farm.

2.2 Designate biosecurity zones

All components of a dairy farm should not be considered at equal risk relative to biosecurity concerns. Therefore, once the farm layout and facility design has been considered and the farm diagram(s) created, biosecurity zones can be established on your farm. The idea of zones is that they contain areas of similar biosecurity risk, and moving between them, generally through a predetermined access point, requires care and specific practices to avoid cross-contamination. Relative risk zones help to conceptualize the biosecurity plan as it applies to animals, facilities and management. The key idea is to concentrate the majority of efforts in identified high-risk zones.

Figure 2: Sample dairy farm diagram with a Controlled Access zone and Restricted Access Zone
Diagram of farm Controlled and Restricted biosecurity access zones. Description follows.
Description of the sample dairy farm diagram

This figure shows two biosecurity zones, a Controlled Access Zone (CAZ) and a Restricted Access Zone (RAZ) for a simple dairy farm site comprised of one barn with a limited number of outbuildings.

The RAZ contains the high risk areas, including animal housing (barn, calf hutches, and maternity pens) as well as pasture areas and manure storage. The CAZ surrounds the RAZ, separating it from the house and yard, and contains storage sheds for feed and deadstock, as well as visitor parking. A transition point is present at each location where there is access to either the CAZ or the RAZ. Transition points are present at the entrance from the home and road and the parking area into the CAZ. The milk house and loading chute are transitions points for the RAZ. The farmhouse is a separate area outside of the CAZ.

The first zone entered when going onto a farm is the Controlled Access Zone (CAZ). When entering the CAZ there is a risk of bringing in pathogens from outside of the zone. When leaving the CAZ there is a risk of taking pathogens from within the zone into the production area or off the farm. For example, numerous vehicles travel among several dairy farms on a daily basis (i.e. milk truck, other service providers) and they could transmit pathogens if precautions are not taken. Biosecurity practices to reduce these risks should be included in the farm's biosecurity plan.

The second zone entered on the farm is the Restricted Access Zone (RAZ). The RAZ includes the active production areas of the farm. These are the areas in which direct contact with and between farm animals can occur and therefore are the areas of highest risk of disease transmission. Biosecurity practices to prevent the introduction, spread within and exit of pathogens from the RAZ will be included in the biosecurity plan.

The farmhouse and living area may be separate from your zones, if this area can be reasonably isolatedFootnote 1 from the active production areas of the farm. Then, there would be no need for specific biosecurity protocols for people, vehicles or equipment entering this area from off the farm.

Transition points are points at which animals, people, tools, equipment and/or vehicles could be expected to enter or leave a zone, and at which biosecurity practices should be applied. At all transition points, the key concept is to leave behind, or clean and disinfect, any materials, clothing, equipment, or other fomitesFootnote 2 when moving from one risk zone to another.

Examples of common transition points are:

  1. Milk house – Often the most-used access point to the RAZ, and also an area frequently visited by milk pick-up personnel, inspectors and other service providers.
  2. Loading chute – Creates an opportunity for cattle and people handling them to commingle in both the CAZ and the RAZ, especially if it leads directly to the active production area, and for the two areas to be contaminated by the movement of cattle between the two zones.
  3. Feed storage – Requires access from both the CAZ (e.g. by feed delivery personnel and farm workers who are loading up feed produced on the farm), and from the RAZ (e.g. for provision of feed stores to cattle in the barn and elsewhere in the production area) creating multiple transition points.
  4. Deadstock storage – May require access from both the RAZ and the CAZ, and have multiple transition points.
  5. Manure storage – May be a multiple-access area, depending on the disposal procedures for manure on each farm. The area may be enclosed within the RAZ, as shown in the diagram, or it may be a transition point, if manure is disposed of away from the production area.

Setting up these zones contributes to the organized and effective implementation of biosecurity practices. There will be considerable variability from farm to farm on the location of the zones, as they need to be established to meet the needs of the premises based on the risk assessment, farm layout and facility design.

2.3 Assign risk areas and outline movement pathways

Within the Restricted Access Zone (RAZ) there are groups of animals that are more susceptible to disease, specifically in the calf pens and the maternity area. There are also groups of animals, either in the isolation area or hospital pen, which are more likely to carry disease and pose a higher risk of disease transmission. Preparing a list of these areas and pathways, and/or locating them on a sketch of the production area will be useful in illustrating where there are areas of greater or lesser risk for disease transmission, and therefore where biosecurity best management practices must carefully be considered.

Movement of people, equipment and tools occurs between these areas on a daily basis. All movement poses a risk of contamination of the pathways and may ultimately lead to disease transmission between groups of cattle. It is crucial to consider the physical location of various groups of animals. Their proximity to others, their location relative to traffic barriers, and the air movement in the area, all impact the risk of disease transmission. This information can be used to develop a plan for the movement of people, animals and equipment that minimizes the risk of disease transmission.

2.4 Establish goals for production and animal health

The level of biosecurity implemented on your operation will depend on your goals for production and animal health. It is imperative to establish your goals before building your biosecurity plan. Many factors will influence these goals including the purpose of your herd (commercial vs. show herd), and the products sold from your dairy farm (milk, meat/cull cattle, calves, replacement heifers, milk cows, embryos and semen). Your future business plans play a significant role in your goals as well. When establishing your goals, consider the short, medium and long term. Goals can be both overarching for the entire operation as well as targeted to specific aspects of production and/or animal health.

2.5 Determine risk tolerance

Biosecurity is essentially a process of managing risk. You must determine what level of risk your farm is willing to assume or accept and then design your biosecurity plan accordingly to ensure that mitigation measures maintain the risk at an appropriate threshold. Again, many factors will influence the acceptable level of risk for your farm, including what products are sold or may be sold in the future (e.g. milk, meat, breeding animals, semen and embryos), as well as the resources available to devote to biosecurity interventions.

2.6 Complete a risk assessment for disease

In order to effectively begin to develop a biosecurity plan to manage the risks on your farm, it is important to complete a risk assessment for disease. Risk assessment is a way of determining the presence, distribution and severity of a given disease on your farm. The basis for risk assessment is not to eliminate all risks, but to segregate risks into various levels to assist with informed decision-making. Risk assessment helps to determine the specific factors that are most likely to lead to the introduction and spread of pathogens.

Work with your herd veterinarian to:

  • determine your risk level for infectious diseases in general;
  • determine which specific diseases are of the greatest concern to your operation and prioritize them;
  • evaluate your dairy farm for possible risks and vulnerabilities that would contribute to the introduction and spread of disease, making sure to consider who and what comes onto and leaves your farm;
  • categorize the risks as low, medium or high;
  • identify the critical control points or areas where risk mitigation measures would be suitable;
  • evaluate potential methods of disease prevention and/or control; and
  • weigh the benefits of preventing or controlling risk against the costs and managerial demands of a biosecurity plan.

The attached Biosecurity for Canadian Dairy Farms-Risk Assessment Tool (Appendix 2) can assist you in conducting a preliminary risk assessment for your farm. In addition, the listing of best management practices outlined in Section 3 can be used to evaluate your farm's practices relative to risk for the introduction or spread of disease.

With a solid foundation, you are now prepared to build a farm-specific biosecurity plan (see Section 3). Re-evaluation of this plan is important to ensure that the biosecurity plan is effective and reflects the current goals and priorities of your dairy farm operation. This should be completed annually at a minimum and more frequently if there are changes to your facilities or operational practices.

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