6 Critical Steps to Take for Biosecurity Amid Avian Influenza

FBN Network

Jun 03, 2024

While “bird flu” — highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) type A (H5N1) — has been making headlines recently, the USDA says that pasteurization kills the pathogen. It confirms that dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are considered safe to consume. At this time, beef cows have not been impacted, so meat is considered safe to consume as well.  

On May 24, the USDA released a statement that its Food Safety and Inspection Service tested beef tissue from 96 dairy cows condemned at selected facilities and that viral particles were detected in the tissue samples of one of these cows. The USDA reported: "No meat from these dairy cattle entered the food supply."  

On May 24, The New York Times wrote: "So far, the virus, which is known as H5N1, has only been detected in dairy cattle and not in the beef cattle that are raised for meat."

U.S. livestock producers, mindful of the impact diseases can have on their profitability, keep biosecurity measures at the forefront of their businesses. There are a number of strategies farmers have in place for the health of their cattle and the biosecurity of their farms. They are taking extra precautions amid recent news events. 

In this post, we’ll explore:

  • Impact of Avian Influenza on the Cattle Industry

  • What Are Biosecurity Measures?

  • 6 Steps for Biosecurity

  • What to Do If You Suspect a Biosecurity Risk on Your Farm

Impact of Avian Influenza on the Cattle Industry 

Highly pathogenic avian influenza type A has been making headlines recently, and it’s important to understand that “highly pathogenic” does not refer to its impact on humans. HPAI does not typically infect humans, and the CDC states that the risk to the general public is “low.” 

On May 30, it was reported that a third U.S. dairy worker contracted H5N1. The individual developed flu-like respiratory symptoms, which are improving as they isolate. The first two individuals’ symptoms were pink eye. Even though federal officials say there is still low risk for the general population, and that there is no evidence avian flu can spread from person to person, this highlights the importance of biosecurity.

The impact of the influenza type A in U.S. cattle is difficult to quantify as this new disease outbreak is in the early stages. HPAI A(H5N1) was first confirmed in cattle in Texas in March, though it’s possible that it first jumped to lactating dairy cows in December. Nine states have confirmed H5N1 cases in dairy cattle, as of May 22, 2024:

  • Colorado

  • Idaho

  • Kansas

  • Michigan

  • New Mexico

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • South Dakota

  • Texas

A large population of cattle can become infected by the so-called “avian flu,” but infection generally results in a low mortality rate. 

In response to the outbreak, the USDA currently requires any lactating dairy cow to be tested for Influenza A seven days before they can be moved across state lines; they may return to their home herd with that negative test result within 10 days. This specific test is a new regulation form the USDA, but this is not a new practice as there are already several diseases cattle need to test negative for in order to cross state lines, such as Brucellosis, Vibrio, Johnes, and TB. Producers are taking this extra effort now so that HPAI A(H5N1) does not continue to spread. 

What Are Biosecurity Measures?

Biosecurity is “a set of management and physical measures designed to reduce the risk of introduction, establishment and spread of animal diseases, infections or infestations to, from and within an animal population,” according to The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) definition in the Terrestrial Animal Health code.

Testing for HPAI A(H5N1) is an example of a biosecurity measure for a specific virus, but livestock producers take a wide variety of measures to protect cattle from diseases both known and unknown. 

6 Steps to Take for Biosecurity 

1. Quarantine New Livestock

Quarantine all cattle, both mature and calves, that arrive on your yard. They should be physically distanced from your other livestock. 

Make sure they are given plenty of water and time to rest when they first arrive at the farm. Because cortisol levels may rise when the cattle are exposed to the perceived threats associated with change, it’s wise to put them in a quiet part of the field so they can get acclimated to their new surroundings, 

Viruses, including H5N1, can be spread through bodily secretions, including:

  • Oral

  • Nasal

  • Urine 

Therefore, ensure there is no opportunity for nose-to-nose contact or run-off from the quarantine pen to a neighboring pen.

2. Keep Pens Up to Standards

Cattle should never be overstocked or crowded in their pens, as this leads to stress, which may cause:

  • Enhanced susceptibility to disease

  • Diminished milk production

  • Lower rate of reproduction

Provide cattle with plenty of space to lay down and move around. It’s typical to provide at least 300 square feet per head

The pens should provide a clean, dry environment. One of the most critical aspects to keep in mind is that moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria. Adding a slight slope — even as minimal as 3% can be effective — to drain fluids away from feed is beneficial. 

The age of the cattle, season, and type of bedding play a role in how often pens need to be cleaned, but in general:

  • Spot clean three times a day, removing soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh bedding

  • Sanitize equipment cattle comes in contact with daily 

  • Thoroughly clean milking stations daily 

  • Fully disinfect a station before a new calf or cow arrives

  • Conduct a deep clean of the barns annually

Ensure there is good air quality for both comfort and biosecurity. There should be proper ventilation so cattle have access to fresh air throughout the seasons. There are a number of instruments that can help measure air quality. Conditions to consider include:

  • Temperature

  • Dust

  • Contaminants 

3. Keep Feed and Water Safe 

Cattle should have unrestricted access to clean feed and fresh water. Ensure cattle have fresh feed every day and quickly discard any feed that becomes contaminated. Flies are often attracted to feed, so be sure to replace food that hasn’t been eaten on a timely basis.

Flies can bite away at your profits when they irritate your cattle. Learn about fly control in the free FBN Grass Turnout Guide.

Cattle are less likely to drink water that is poor in quality. Water can easily become contaminated with soil, algae, minerals, manure, and more. When cattle drink poor-quality water or drink less than the recommended 8-35 gallons per day, depending on their size and individual circumstances, they may:

  • Lose weight

  • Have tighter skin

  • Become dehydrated

  • Have dry eyes 

  • Experience stress

Therefore, ensure there is plenty of fresh water strategically located wherever cattle feed indoors or graze outdoors. Ensure the water neither freezes nor rises above 80 °F. 

Feeding and water troughs should be:

  • Cleaned of debris daily

  • Cleaned regularly during heavy use

  • Chemically disinfected at least twice a year

Be sure that chemical disinfectants are thoroughly rinsed away before refilling the troughs so that cattle do not ingest harmful toxins. 

One of the ways that HPAI A(H5N1) is spread is through contact with dead birds and bird droppings. Therefore, be mindful to immediately clean bird droppings or dead birds from pens and feeding areas. 

4. Perform Routine Facility Maintenance 

Routine maintenance is essential for farm biosecurity. Regularly surveying pastures, pens, and facilities will help you stay prepared so that you can make any necessary repairs or adjustments before they become bigger, more expensive issues to fix.

Routine farm maintenance for ensuring biosecurity for cattle may include:

  • Repairing holes

  • Keeping fences secure from neighboring livestock 

  • Ensuring there isn’t standing water in pens

  • Removing bird and rodent nests

  • Setting fly traps

  • Clipping pastures

  • Spraying weeds — be particularly mindful of weeds that are toxic to cattle

  • Preventing any access points for birds to enter pens, milking facilities, and other facilities

Do you want to make improvements to your ranch? FBN Finance offers financing solutions that can be used for:

  • Constructing livestock facilities

  • Repairing barns

  • Purchasing additional farmland 

Learn more about farmland loans from FBN Finance here.

5. Promote Immune Health

Cattle that are already stressed and have weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to diseases. Therefore, promoting the overall general health of your cattle will help to make them more resilient.

There is not currently a vaccine for Influenza type A. However, ensuring cattle are up to date on other vaccines is essential so cattle have a competent immune system. 

6. Help Employees Stay Sanitized

It’s important to instill a culture of cleanliness among farm workers to help support biosecurity measures. Workers should receive regular training so they understand how to best keep livestock, facilities, and equipment clean and how they themselves should stay hygienic.

Provide workers with a wash station, and post reminders to wash their hands. They should also be encouraged to wear clean gloves when working with livestock.

Provide laundry facilities stocked with detergent and bleach so that workers can wash and sanitize their clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and work boots. 

If you have quarantine pens, try to have separate equipment and staff working with these animals. However, if the same personnel are working with both native and new animals, have them wash their boots, hands, and change clothes if they become soiled. 

As much as possible, limit the number of guests and non-essential visitors to your facility. Ideally, individuals should be provided with boots that are used exclusively on the farm. At a bare minimum, biosecurity measures should include hand sanitizing. If you share milk trucks, strive to have truck drivers wear booties and gloves when walking onto your farm. 

When it comes to avian influenza, employees are at a low risk of getting sick from the birds. However, because it is impossible to completely eliminate risk, employees should use proper PPE when handling birds or bird droppings. Each employee should wear gloves and thoroughly clean their hands after any bird interaction.

What to Do If You Suspect a Biosecurity Risk on Your Farm 

If you suspect an animal on your farm is infected, isolate them and call your veterinarian. Monitor cattle so it doesn’t spread. 

Call your vet ASAP if you suspect highly pathogenic avian influenza type A on your ranch. HPAI A(H5N1) is a federally reportable disease. Clinical signs of Influenza A are:

  • Decreased feed intake

  • Dehydrated fecal matter

  • Decreased water intake

  • Decreased milk production

  • Abnormal-looking milk (such as thick, yellow, or colostrum type consistency)

For more information, see the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recommendations here.

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FBN Network

Jun 03, 2024

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