The National Sheep On-Farm Biosecurity Standard
1 Introduction

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1.1 Biosecurity and Why it is Important to the Sheep Industry in Canada

BiosecurityFootnote 1 is often thought to be important only in avoiding catastrophic or foreign animal diseases (FADs). However, in the National Sheep On-Farm Biosecurity Standard (the “Standard”), in addition to having a positive impact on the prevention of FADs, biosecurity is intended to be proactive in helping to reduce the risks of endemic diseases. These are diseases that commonly occur at some level on farms in Canada, and if they can be reduced, flock productivity and the financial well-being of the industry can be improved. Biosecurity practices are also designed to reduce the risk of disease transmission when emerging diseases are discovered.

Farm-level biosecurity is about a series of management practices designed to minimize, prevent or control:

  1. The introduction of infectious pathogens onto a farm;
  2. Spread within a farm production operation;
  3. Export of these pathogens beyond the farm, which may have an adverse effect on the economy, the environment and human health.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)

In order to proactively guard against flock health problems, sheep producers need to be aware of the diseases of concern on their farms, and the risks of both endemic diseases and FADs occurring in their flocks. Certain disease risks commonly occur from time to time in farmed animal production, but they can be managed by practical biosecurity measures applied at the farm level.

On a sheep farm, a biosecurity plan focuses on:

  1. Exclusion: reduce the introduction of pathogens on sheep farms.
  2. Management: reduce the spread of pathogens within a sheep farm.
  3. Containment: reduce the spread of pathogens between sheep farms or from sheep farms to other animal populations.

Biosecurity addresses risks that could exist, whether they are immediately evident or not. An animal infected with a pathogen may or may not show signs of disease (e.g. off feed, fever, diarrhea). Nevertheless, the pathogen can be reproduced in the animal's body and be shed through excretions, including saliva, nasal and vaginal secretions, faeces, urine, milk, or aerosols from the respiratory system. These pathogens may not be visible and can contaminate the surfaces in the surrounding environment, including facilities, equipment, tools, and other animals.

Biosecurity particularly addresses disease transmission risks. Pathogens can be transmitted by several means:

  • directly, by contact between animals, including transmission of pathogens shed by one sheep to another, or
  • indirectly, from contact with contaminated tools, equipment and instruments (such as needles, syringes, feeders and pen walls, or hoof trimmers), from people having contact with sheep, and from insects, vermin or any other vectors.

Biosecurity addresses risks that impact the viability of farms. Diseases and pests can:

  • reduce productivity, by reducing milk production, weight gain and/or successful lambing;
  • increase veterinary and labour costs for vaccination and treatment of the flock;
  • impact animal welfare, causing suffering and operator/veterinary intervention;
  • affect domestic consumption, introducing concern among retailers and reducing consumers' confidence in Canadian sheep products;
  • reduce prices that producers receive for their animals and products, driven by concern regarding lower quality and product safety;
  • close export markets;
  • reduce farm incomes, due to reduced marketing;
  • reduce the value of farmland, due to direct contamination (e.g. Johne's disease, scrapie) and reduced attributable revenue;
  • contaminate stored feed, resulting in waste and additional cost; and
  • result in condemnation of meat through contamination with such agents as Cysticercus ovis or caseous lymphadenitisFootnote 2

In addition to adverse effects on the agricultural economy, diseases and pests can have negative effects on the environment and on human health.

The benefits of implementing on-farm biosecurity practices are significant. They include:

  • more secure financial health for producers;
  • improved animal health and welfare;
  • reduced use of veterinary drugs, thereby reducing medical costs and decreasing the risk of antibiotic resistance;
  • more secure market access, both local and national;
  • protection of human health; and
  • more secure financial health for farm workers and for farm service industries such as feed suppliers, processors, and veterinarians.

1.2 Development of the Standard

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is developing National Biosecurity Standards for livestock and poultry in collaboration with producer organizations, provincial/territorial governments, academia and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Each sector has its own operating requirements and unique practices that need to be reflected in each Biosecurity Standard.

The Canadian Sheep Federation (CSF) and the Canadian government recognize that animal health starts on the farm with an animal health program. Putting measures in place to keep animals healthy and implementing strategies to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases are the goals of an on-farm biosecurity plan.

The National Sheep On-Farm Biosecurity Standard was developed through a coordinated set of activities over a two-year period:

  1. CFIA's Office of Animal Biosecurity (OAB) and the CSF developed a partnership to create a Standard for biosecurity in the sheep industry in Canada.
  2. An Advisory Committee including producer representatives, academics, industry leaders and representatives of the federal and provincial governments was formed to guide the development of the Standard and the National Sheep Producer Biosecurity Planning Guide (the “Guide”)Footnote 3.
  3. A consultant firm was selected through a competitive bidding process and assigned the responsibility to undertake certain activities on behalf of the project sponsors.
  4. A review of published research, biosecurity-related documents, and existing programs identified biosecurity-related programs, studies of biosecurity implementation, and best practices in use on sheep farms in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Gaps in practices for addressing known biosecurity risks and in current biosecurity programs were identified.
  5. A benchmark measurement of practices in use on sheep farms across Canada provided a snapshot of the current level of adoption of biosecurity and animal health practices, and recorded GAPs and best practices on the participant farms.
  6. Draft versions of the Standard and the Guide were refined through consultations with the Advisory Committee and industry stakeholders and published in final form.
  7. A communication package was developed to help producers in all regions of the country develop, implement and post their on-farm biosecurity plans.

1.3 Use of the Standard

The Standard provides the framework and scope for biosecurity planning in the sheep sector in Canada by establishing a minimum set of biosecurity standards that can be used by sheep producers in all producing regions. It is intended to assist sheep producers in developing biosecurity plans for their specific farm operations, to serve as a guide for continuous improvement, and to encourage a higher level of care.

In addition it is intended to provide insight to sheep producers' suppliers, customers and stakeholders regarding the direction the industry is taking in designing its farm-level biosecurity program. These people can then directly support sheep producers' biosecurity efforts, design other programs to interface and coordinate with on-farm biosecurity practices, and coordinate activities between livestock sectors.

In particular, the Standard and the Guide are expected to be coordinated with and used together with producers' own animal records and on-farm flock health plans, the Canadian Sheep Federation's Food Safe Farm Practices Program, animal welfare programs and regulations, industry disease management programs, environmental farm plans, and traceability initiatives that are currently in place regionally, provincially and/or nationally in Canada. In fact, some of the content in the Standard and the Guide may be duplicated in these programs and initiatives, in order to ensure that they all are complete, as stand-alone products. Key audiences for the Standard are:

  • Producers, to understand the principles and rationale of the Standard and to establish a framework for their biosecurity planning;
  • Commodity sector organizations, to support market issues and disease management;
  • Veterinary practitioners, for input to flock health management programs and as a guide in helping producers prepare their biosecurity plans;
  • Academics, to guide plans for new research in sheep health, biosecurity and production practices, and to encourage application of current research to these areas;
  • Buyers and consumers, to understand the principles sheep producers work towards and as a common basis for assessment of domestic supply and suppliers;
  • Federal and Provincial governments, for international and interprovincial discussions on overall livestock farm practices and as the basis for policy and funding through public agencies;
  • International Governments, for information on biosecurity practices that are recommended for use on Canadian farms; and
  • Foreign delegations, as a source of information about what to expect when visiting sheep farms and to support their general understanding of practices in the Canadian industry.

This document presents the guiding principles, structure and planning approach that are the foundation of the Standard, and provides detailed descriptions of its goals and associated strategies. For those requiring a more detailed view of the farm-level plans and practices, and as a resource document for producers as they develop and implement their biosecurity plans, the Guide has been developed as a companion volume to the Standard.

1.4 Structure of the Standard

Keeping animals healthy has been a long-standing and successful practice on many Canadian farms, and sheep producers in all regions currently apply sound biosecurity practices to a greater or lesser degree. However, a number of new challenges are being experienced in agriculture:

  • Increasing numbers of new and emerging pathogens
  • More attention to zoonotic diseases
  • Greater focus on prevention of disease rather than treatment
  • Changing epidemiology of disease due to confluence of animals and people in intensive farming situation
  • Globalization and the mass movement of people and goods
  • More attention to traceability
  • New production practices in agriculture

These factors are encouraging livestock producers to increase their commitment to biosecurity, and to review their current on-farm biosecurity practices.

Nevertheless, it is important that the Standard and the Guide fit into the day-to-day production practices followed by sheep producers in Canada. In order to address all of these influences, and to acknowledge that biosecurity practices need to be adopted to suit each farm's operating procedures and physical facilities, the following guidelines were considered in developing the Standard:

The Sheep Biosecurity Standard is:

  • A voluntary, outcome-based tool for use in developing and updating on-farm biosecurity protocols for sheep producers.
  • Peer-reviewed guidance for producers in all sectors of the industry – meat, fibre and milk – and on all types of farms.
  • A framework and a set of practices to allow producers to design biosecurity protocols that fit their own operations.
  • Guided by the best practices that are currently being used in the sheep industry in Canada and elsewhere and by the available literature pertaining to biosecurity on sheep farms.
  • Enhanced by the direction and assistance of an Advisory Committee that included producers, veterinarians and industry experts.
  • A source of educational material to support training and education of farm workers, family members, service providers, and any visitors who are invited to the farm.
  • A self-assessment tool and a set of guidelines for self-improvement with respect to biosecurity on sheep farms.
  • A support for commercial transactions; known and disclosed biosecurity and flock health programs will increase buyer confidence in live-animal purchases.
  • A comprehensive resource regarding the biosecurity practices for use on the farm, when taken together with those that are currently contained in the On-Farm Food Safety (OFFS) program.
  • A way to help increase productivity on Canadian sheep farms.

The Standard consists of four on-farm Biosecurity Principles:

  1. Animal Health Management Practices
  2. Record Keeping
  3. Farm, Facilities and Equipment
  4. People

For each Principle, a goal has been set and a number of Strategies have been developed to provide the overall direction for reducing disease transmission risks. This goal-driven approach provides the flexibility for producers to design biosecurity plans that will work on their farms. For each Strategy, a set of Risk Management Practices is presented in the Guide and is intended to be adapted to fit the operational focus and physical layout of each producer's farm and facilities. Therefore, the Standard and the Guide both have the flexibility that is needed to work with the range of production practices and farm types across Canada.

A glossary of terms is included in an appendix, to provide a guide to the terms that are generally used in farm-level biosecurity. The terms in the glossary are in bold the first time they appear in the Standard.

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