Canadian Beef Cattle On-Farm Biosecurity Standard
Principle 1: Manage and minimize animal movement risks:

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Animal movements are one of the most common means of spreading disease in the beef cattle industry. The most significant of these involve:

  • Commingling: the mixing of animals from different sources. Examples include:
    • acquiring animals from several sources, as occurs at feedlots; or
    • putting animals into contact with animals from many sources, as occurs at community pastures.
  • High-risk animals: those with an unknown or greater probability of having a disease. Examples include animals of:
    • unknown health status,
    • different herd, or returning after being away from the herd,
    • sick or recently recovered status, or
    • different species.
  • Highly susceptible animals: those at greater risk of acquiring disease. This includes:
    • calves and young stock,
    • sick or recently recovered animals,
    • animals with reduced or weakened immunity, and
    • cattle not previously vaccinated.

These movements significantly contribute to disease in the beef cattle industry. They are also an important element of most beef cattle operations, and certainly of the industry as a whole.

While it is impractical to suggest that these movements not occur, producers should be aware that:

  • there are risks associated with these forms of animal movements; and
  • they can manage these risks using practices suggested in the following sections.

1A. Manage Commingling

Commingling is a common practice familiar to most beef cattle producers that involves the mixing of cattle from one operation with those of another. Examples include: putting animals on crown range or in community pastures, shows, live auction sales, bull tests, feedlots, backgrounding and more.

Most producers are familiar with commingling and it is integral to many if not most operations. The information here is intended to educate and inform producers regarding the risks associated with commingling and, at the same time, to suggest to producers practices within their own operations that may reduce the impacts of these risks.

1A.1. Segregate and, when warranted, vaccinate, test and otherwise treat incoming animals

Why Is This Important?

Incoming cattle may be carrying and shedding disease, even if they appear clinically healthy, and especially if they've been exposed to cattle from other herds and/or they are stressed due to weaning, mixing, shipping, etc.

  • Segregation protects the rest of the herd by providing time to identify disease in incoming cattle. It also protects the incoming cattle from diseases in the rest of the herd, until mitigating strategies like vaccination take effect.
  • Vaccination is used to increase the immunity of incoming cattle against diseases that may be present in the herd / environment.
  • Testing can help to identify disease risks that exist in incoming animals. Once identified these risks may be managed / treated in a manner that minimizes disease risks to animal and herd.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Determine your risk tolerance

A first step is to clearly determine the degree of risk to the health of your resident herd that you are willing and able to accept and manage. The degree of risk will vary and will be determined by such things as:

  • the type of herd maintained – registered purebred versus crossbred
  • farm management practices
  • producer expertise
  • production challenges, including diseases present
  • goals established by the producer

Producers of registered purebred herds who derive their primary income from selling breeding stock will have a lower risk tolerance than a backgrounding or feedlot operation.

b. Identify and assess the risk

Identify the risks of disease exposure and transmission, and determine whether they affect the incoming animals and / or the resident herd.

Once these risks have been identified, determine which management strategies can be used to mitigate them: Can the risks be:

  • Avoided
  • Reduced
  • Accepted

Some risks may be accepted and managed using practices such as segregation, combined with vaccination, testing and/or treatments. This has been a successful approach employed by feedlots.

These risks may also be avoided to a degree, for example with certain buying practices that limit the sources of incoming animals. This is part of a successful approach used by many cow-calf operations.

Some, perhaps many, operations will combine both risk avoidance and minimizing practices. In this situation, the operation might use buying practices as well as segregation, vaccination, testing and treatment practices. This integrated approach is successfully applied on cow-calf and purebred operations.

The appropriate approach for a specific operation will vary according to a range of factors, including the risks, the environment, the type of operation, etc. Producers should take the time to regularly evaluate these factors with their veterinarian, and identify the practices most appropriate to their operation.

For biosecurity purposes, disease risk management practices incorporate the concepts of avoidance, reduction and acceptance.

The appropriate practices will depend upon the costs and benefits for a specific operation.

c. Develop an "Incoming Animals Plan"

To be consistent and effective, develop an "Incoming Animals Plan" that incorporates segregation and vaccination, testing and treatment practices specific to your operation. Consult health records, personnel and your veterinarian for diseases of concern and appropriate vaccines, tests and treatments and their limitations. To see what an incoming animals plan might look like, See Schedule 3.

d. Review your buying practices

Use buying practices to limit the risk of introducing disease in incoming cattle. A "closed herd" with no introductions may be ideal, but is impractical for most operations.

Consider the class, source, timing and frequency of the purchases required. For example, there are significant risks that may result from buying untested bulls that have already been used for breeding, or buying foster calves or open cows.

  • Many operations limit their purchases to certain classes of animals, e.g. virgin bulls, bred cows or heifers.
  • Some producers choose to manage risk by limiting the number or type of sources they buy from, e.g. only from known sources, only from two or three locations, or directly from a breeder (herd of origin).
  • Producers can restrict introductions to certain times of the year when the risk may be reduced, or to only a few occasions per year when they can monitor the results effectively.
  • Lastly, for purebred operations, improving and increasing herd size through the use of artificial insemination and embryo transfer will reduce disease exposure.
e. Plan the arrival at the farm

Plan where incoming animals are unloaded, to minimize exposure to other cattle. Ideally, trucks should unload without entering the Production Area.

f. Segregate incoming animals

Segregate all incoming animals from the herd, on arrival, whether they are new or returning. This involves separation and regular monitoring for an extended period of time.

  • Segregation pens should be near the unloading facility and accessed without exposure to the herd.
  • Segregation pens should give incoming animals physical, spatial and procedural separation to avoid exposure to the herd. Avoid spreading disease from one group to the other, whether through run-off, fence-line or nose-to-nose contact, common equipment, clothing, footwear, personnel, pets, wildlife, etc. Consider using designated clothing, boots and equipment. Pens should be physically separate from the rest of the Production Area and a substantial distance from the herd to prevent aerosol spread, e.g. 60 m. or more. Procedures should minimize exposure through different equipment or personnel.
  • Animals in segregation should be regularly monitored for disease, for an extended period of time. Ideally this involves twice-daily observation for 14 days, possibly more depending on the diseases of concern or whether disease is observed.
  • Personnel monitoring segregated animals should know the signs of disease, treatments and response for diseases of concern. When segregated animals display signs of disease, these measures must be employed.
g. Vaccinate, test and treat as required

Vaccinate and/or test incoming animals early in the segregation period. This should take place after leaving the animals overnight to adjust to their location and before they are introduced to the herd. In some cases you may want this done before the animals are brought on farm, e.g. a condition of sale.

Treat incoming animals for internal and external parasites early in the segregation period. In some areas, such parasites play an important role in the spread of certain vector-borne diseases.

All health vaccines, tests and treatments should be recorded, ideally on an individual animal basis. This information, kept in the Health Log, can also be used to inform subsequent owners.

h. Additional considerations

Additional considerations regarding Incoming Animals:

  • Healthy or highly susceptible animals first: Monitor, feed and handle healthy/young cattle before segregated/sick/old animals. This helps to avoid spreading disease.
  • Introduce together: Cattle that are segregated together should move in to the herd together. This helps to minimize stress and resulting disease.
  • Clean and when necessary disinfect after use: Clean and, when necessary, disinfect segregation facilities after use, including bunks and waterers, especially if a disease has been present.

An all in / all out strategy may work in some scenarios, e.g. smaller feedlots, bull test or backgrounding yards. In larger feedlots, it isn't practical to fill and empty the entire lot at once. However, a modified all in / all out strategy can be used by penning animals of a particular type and intake date together in the same alleyway or section of pens, and shipping them at the same time. In either case, animals should be left in their purchased groups as much as possible to avoid sorting across pens with different intake dates.

Biosecurity requirements for sick animals are similar to those for segregated animals. Separate facilities for segregation and for sick cattle are important, however, to prevent disease from being transferred to new cattle.

See Target Outcomes 1A.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5 for additional related information.

1A.2. Obtain and share information about commingled animals with previous and future owners

Why Is This Important?

Sharing herd health information benefits producers (including buyers and sellers). Knowing the health history of commingled animals, including the herd that they are coming from, can:

  • avoid / reduce the introduction of disease and other potential health problems to the herd or the incoming animals.
  • ensure that appropriate vaccines or tests are administered and avoid the unnecessary cost of duplication.

It is also helpful to report back and let sellers know of health issues that may have originated under their care and what management changes they may need to make. Ultimately, this benefits the animals through improved health and welfare.

Finally, providing this information as a normal practice can impact buying decisions and protect buyer / seller relationships, which are important in any business.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess the risk

Reviewing the health information that is relevant to incoming cattle can help to identify possible disease risks. These might affect either the incoming animals or the herd they are joining.

b. Health information follows animals

Health information should accompany the movement of all animals that have been commingled. Ideally the information would accompany the movement of all new purchases, particularly breeding stock, although the emphasis is on commingled stock where the health risks are higher.

The information may be offered on all transfers or transactions. If it isn't offered in the course of the transaction, it should be requested.

Information of benefit to the buyer and animal health and welfare includes: vaccination status, diseases they have been exposed to (disease outbreaks on farm/community pasture), recent treatments for a herd and individual animal.

c. Shipping Records

Ideally this health-related information would be written down for the new owner. A Shipping Record can be useful in this regard, and an example is shown in Schedule 6. Some programs offer web-based tools to share health-related information that may also be helpful to the new owner.

d. Treat for known health risks

Commingled animals that are not accompanied by health information represent a common and difficult issue for producers to evaluate. Many commingling practices are common to the industry and unlikely to change. That said, there is an increased health risk that accompanies commingled animals, because they've been exposed to every health risk in the group. Producers can address that risk by treating them for the known health risks of the group in which they were commingled.

Using biosecurity practices in this way enables producers to effectively manage the health risks associated with the common business practice of receiving commingled cattle. The application of biosecurity practices on introduction to feedlots effectively manages the health risks of cattle that are sourced through commingled venues. This has played a significant role in the successful growth of the feedlot sector in the past 20 years. See Target Outcomes 1A.1, 1B.2 and 4.5 for additional related information.

1A.3. Minimize contact with animals of other species and from other operations to the extent possible

Why is this important?

Other animal species (particularly other non-bovine ruminants) may carry diseases that cause minimal to no clinical illness in them, yet significantly impact cattle. For example Bovine malignant catarrhal fever (BMCF) may reside in sheep or goats with minimal impact, yet cause significant health concerns if introduced to cattle.

Cattle in other operations are another risk, as they may have been exposed to a disease not present or managed in the herd. Contact in this case may introduce a disease that is not being managed and against which the herd is not protected. For example, BVD might be managed on one operation, but the disease may be introduced through contact to a herd where the disease is not present or being managed.

Contact with animals in both cases could expose the herd to diseases whose presence the producer is unaware of, whether from:

  • wild or farmed animals; or
  • cattle, ruminants or other species.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess the risk

Identify instances or locations where contact of cattle with animals of other species and/or operations is likely or unavoidable, and try to manage the resulting exposure.

Contact the owners of the operations where contact does occur to collaborate on common biosecurity practices, and identify where additional vaccination or other risk management strategies may be warranted.

Discuss the risks of animal contact with professionals, including your veterinarian, and develop risk mitigation strategies.

Maintain fences

Maintain fences in good repair to minimize contact with other operations. Fence-line contact is of considerably less risk than commingling in the same pasture, particularly if other species are involved.

b. Manage grazing and create buffer zones

Create a buffer zone between operations. This can be done using roadways, natural boundaries, including rivers, double fences, and even the use of more resistant animals. For example:

  • Pasture highly susceptible animals furthest from other operations and other species.
  • Coordinate grazing with neighbours to minimize fence-line contact, especially if other species are involved.
  • Allow a fallow period between grazing rotations, particularly if other species are involved.
c. Manage shared pasture and range

If your cattle are pastured with cattle from other operations, there are a number of practices to consider:

  • Obtain health information for the other herds (see 1A.2). Ask the Pasture Manager to provide a copy of vaccination and/or testing requirements. Ensure that commingled herds have similar health status and biosecurity practices.
  • Establish and maintain common biosecurity practices amongst those using the pasture. These may help to avoid a range of diseases, including venereal disease; and utilize a range of practices such as testing and culling for infected bulls, wintering bulls away from cows to avoid re-infection, accepting only virgin heifers or cows with calf at foot.
d. Limit contact with other species

Avoid grazing of different species on the same or adjacent production areas. Producers running herds of two or more species should manage their herds to avoid contact between the species groups.

Where practical, control access to water, feed and minerals by animals of other species or operations.

e. Manage contact with wildlife

Where practical, limit contact with wildlife and pest populations, both of which can transmit certain diseases to and among cattle. While not always possible to accomplish, it is useful to know if contact with other species is occurring and how it occurs. Specific inter-species contacts to be aware of include:

  • deer and elk on feeding grounds or near feed storage areas;

Birds, for example in feedlots, are unlikely to be avoided or controlled to any great extent and, while their role is unknown, they might be a factor in the spread of some diseases.

f. Manage health of other animals and pets on-farm

Apply good biosecurity practices to animals of other species. Biosecurity standards are being developed for other farmed animal species and these provide good guidelines. Working dogs should have current vaccinations and be monitored for disease.

Ensure that pets are current with their vaccinations, monitored for disease and kept out of the Production Area.

g. Additional pointers

Apply strict biosecurity practices to animals and equipment taken offsite for show or rodeo purposes. These animals should be segregated from the herd for the season and monitored / managed to minimize disease transmission. Trailers and equipment used for this purpose can be cleaned out prior to use for other animals.

See Target Outcomes 1A.1, 1A.2, 2.3, 2.6 and 2.7 for additional discussion regarding wildlife and pests.

1B. Manage movements of high-risk and highly susceptible animals

Most beef cattle producers are aware of the increased disease risks associated with:

High-Risk Animals:

  • Cattle of unknown immune status or no previous vaccinations
  • Older animals with more latent and / or chronic health issues (e.g. Johne's Disease)
  • Animals new to the operation or of another species
  • Commingled animals that may have been exposed to new pathogens, including animals new or returning to the herd
  • Sick or recently recovered

Highly Susceptible Animals

  • Animals having low immunity
  • Newborn and recently weaned calves
  • Pregnant cows
  • Unvaccinated cattle
  • Stressed or recently stressed animals, including sick or recently recovered, recently transported or sold at auction, old age, poor general health or a high parasite load

The information provided here may suggest practices that will help producers to manage these animals and their attendant risks.

1B.1. Manage and minimize movements of, and contacts with, high-risk and highly susceptible animals

Why Is This Important?

High-risk animals are more likely than others to shed disease while highly susceptible animals have a lowered immunity, making them more likely to acquire disease than others.

Activities which may stress cattle (animal transport, treatments etc.) have been demonstrated to further impair immune function and increase shedding of disease agents. Consequently, moving High-Risk and Highly susceptible Animals increases the opportunity for disease transmission.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess risks

Know the health status of your animals and of the animals being introduced to the herd. Specifically, producers should know which individuals or groups are at greater risk of carrying a disease, and which are most susceptible to acquiring a disease.

This should be taken into consideration on all new purchases, and other animals coming into contact with yours.

Additional information may be available from your veterinarian.

b. Avoid movements of these animals

Avoid moving animals of both groups.

Reduce their direct or indirect contact with other cattle, whether these are yours or someone else's, when you can.

c. Disclose known health concerns

Disclosure of known health concerns can be a component of the transaction process. Certainly "buyer beware" should remain a necessary element of every transaction, however known health concerns should be disclosed from seller to buyer, and sellers should avoid "passing them on" as this perpetuates and often amplifies a problem.

d. Treat promptly

Promptly treat cattle that are showing signs of disease to reduce the opportunity for exposure of susceptible animals.

e. Clean and disinfect

Clean and, where appropriate, disinfect equipment between age and production groups. This might include handling equipment and veterinary equipment.

f. Group and manage animals by risk

Sequence farm work and animal handling activities to avoid spreading disease: manage highly susceptible animals first and the high-risk animals last.

Keep age and production units separated where possible:

  • Bulls and cows should be wintered separately to minimize infection from late calving and late cycling cows.

Place cattle on pasture with consideration for disease risks:

  • Pasture the most susceptible animals furthest from areas where there may be disease risks, with more resistant animals closer.
  • High-risk areas might be those adjacent to cattle from neighbouring operations, segregation or sick areas, or deadstock and manure storage.

Consider grazing rotations based on production and age groups:

  • Graze replacement heifers on pasture before mature cows, so that the heifers are not exposed to persistent organisms shed by non-clinical animals that may be present amongst the older cows.

See also suggested practices for commingling animals. See Target Outcomes 1A.1, 1A.2 and 1A.3.

'Handle healthy or highly susceptible animals first, high-risk animals last.'

1B.2. Use or request clean trucks for movement of highly susceptible animals

Why Is This Important?

Manure and dirty bedding may be a source of disease. Removing this material from trucks and trailers before they are used to transport cattle and before these vehicles are brought onto other premises reduces the risk of spreading disease.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess risk

Ideally, clean trucks would be available for all livestock movements; however, this is currently an unrealistic proposition in the cattle industry. Using clean trucks is of greatest importance for transporting highly susceptible animals. These animals are at greatest risk of acquiring disease, which increases with the added stress of transportation, and may do so from the manure or dirty bedding present in trucks that have not been cleaned.

b. Request clean trucks

Clean trucks should be requested when producers book their loads.

For many reasons, it may be difficult to clean trucks or to obtain clean trucks, e.g. cold weather, few clean out facilities, backlog of orders during fall runs, etc.

c. Clean your own trucks

Producers should keep their own trucks clean. If your truck is used to haul cattle for other premises, then clean it before leaving your premises. Clean it again at the other premises before it returns, or use the clean-out pile noted below.

d. Provide "clean out" facilities

While it is preferable that trucks be clean on arrival, they can be cleaned out or scraped on arrival, weather permitting, on the premises. A clean-out pile for trucks should not be accessible to animals, and should be separate from the premises' stored manure. This material should not be spread or sold until properly composted or weathered.

e. Cleaning live haul trailers

Cleaning consists of five steps.

  1. Dry cleaning – To remove all visible manure and bedding (scraping, brushing, etc.). During winter, this may be limited to scraping out loose material, which may be easiest immediately after animals are off-loaded and before the bedding freezes.
  2. Wet Cleaning – If washing facilities are available, the trailers should then be cleaned from top to bottom using water at low to medium pressure.
  3. Drying – Ideally, surfaces should be allowed to dry prior to disinfecting.
  4. Disinfection – If disinfection facilities are available, disinfect the trailers following the wet cleaning. Use a broad-spectrum registered (Health Canada approved) disinfectant. Registered disinfectants will be identifiable by their Drug Identification Number on the label (DIN). Appropriate application is important – follow the manufacturer's directions. Note: There is little value in disinfecting surfaces if the dry and wet cleaning have not been completed. The mud, manure and bedding will prevent adequate disinfection by protecting surfaces and inactivating many disinfectants.
  5. Drying – Ideally, trailers should be allowed to dry prior to re-bedding.

Re-bed trailers with material that is commonly used in the area, e.g. shavings, straw, etc. Run-off from the washing site should not come in contact with cattle and/or environmentally sensitive areas.

Activities For Cleaning Trucks

  1. Dry Cleaning (may be limited to scraping)
  2. Wet CleaningFootnote 1
  3. Drying
  4. DisinfectingFootnote 1
  5. Drying
  6. Re-bed

Additional Points

  • Request clean trucks when booking
  • Clean out prior to entering premises
  • Use clean out pile, if required
  • Keep clean-out pile inaccessible to cattle, and separate from the premises' manure storage
  • Protect the environment and livestock by appropriately managing run-off
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