Joint biosecurity project enhances livestock industry disease preparedness

When disease strikes a farm, it can have devastating consequences – on the health of the animals, on the finances of the farm business and related suppliers and on the emotional health of farmers themselves.

A new project has identified biosecurity gaps in Ontario’s beef, veal, sheep and goat sectors. A second study did the same for Ontario rabbit producers – areas where farmers and supply chain partners can make improvements to their processes, equipment or buildings to help keep disease out and losses to a minimum.

“There’s no question that animal health is the number one priority for our farmers,” says Jennifer Haley, Executive Director of the Ontario Livestock Alliance, which represents Ontario goat, veal and rabbit producers and led this project. “Keeping our farms and our livestock disease-free is an important part of ensuring our producers and our industries are profitable, competitive and meeting the needs of the market.”

The reports, both produced by eBiz Professionals of Guelph, are the first step in a new, multi-phase project partnership between Ontario Veal, Ontario Goat, Ontario Rabbit, Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency and Ontario Cattlemen’s Association to identify, quantify and address biosecurity gaps and build the industry’s emergency preparedness capabilities. The partnership between the commodity groups on this initiative is considered key to moving this work forward.

Currently, the responsibility for many aspects of response related to animal disease fall to industry as they are not covered by available government resources, and since there are many similar issues across these five sectors, a joint approach was both practical and economically responsible. In fact, it is unlikely these two projects would have been completed had the commodity groups involved not joined together to approach the task collectively.

“Our objective is to establish a common resource and approach for all veal, goat, rabbit, sheep and beef producers,” says Haley. “There are many similarities between these sectors when it comes to animal disease and biosecurity, so working together on this was a great way for us to pool our resources, reduce duplication and ensure we’re using our funds wisely. This wouldn’t have happened if we were all working individually.”

Implementing on-farm biosecurity strategies is one of the fundamental pillars of being prepared for disease of any kind on the farm. It’s an approach that can help prevent or at least mitigate an outbreak and it’s flexible enough to be workable on farms of all sizes, species and production systems. Many biosecurity practices are already being used by industry participants to help them reduce the cost and impact of economically significant diseases in livestock.

“One of our goals with this project is to make producers aware that biosecurity is not just about foreign animal disease,” says Haley. “Good biosecurity practices are directly related to all on-farm animal health and can make a major contribution towards preventing or lessening the impact of animal diseases – especially those that are economically significant to producers.”

“Many are already incorporating some of the important aspects of on-farm biosecurity programs into their operations and businesses,” adds Dan Ferguson of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association and a member of the project’s steering committee. “Our goal is to have solutions that are do-able and flexible to meet the needs of different producers and industry stakeholder groups.”

The two reports identified a number of practices already in place across some or all of the five sectors, such as management to some degree of new animals entering a herd or flock; prophylactic vaccination of purchased animals; implementation of rodent control programs and varying degrees of entry restrictions to on-farm production areas.

“A lot of these things are common sense,” says Ferguson. “But it never hurts to increase your diligence and even though we may think we have things under control, we can always do more to make sure we’re doing things right.”

Although each of the sectors covered in the two studies has its own specific gaps, the reports identified several that are common to all. In terms of on-farm risk, all sectors were shown to have difficulties in being able to identify the health status of animals entering a herd or flock. Proper animal movement controls, including common and adjacent pasture, were not followed. Manure and the cleaning of manure, especially in herds where disease was suspected or evident, was not handled properly and many disease-specific practices were often not followed on-farm. As well, a lack of controls to minimize water and feed contamination was identified.

For the beef, veal, sheep and goat sectors, animal health status knowledge is a key recommendation. Producers are encouraged to know the health status of all livestock coming onto their farms and to purchase disease-free and/or vaccinated animals whenever possible. The report that looked at these commodities also recommends implementing basic biosecurity protocols to separate healthy and diseased animals, minimizing stress during transport and ensuring that water and feed stay free of contaminants.

And although this advice also applies to rabbit producers, the sector is not as advanced in the area of biosecurity as the others involved in this work. To that end, the report focusing specifically on rabbit production includes a recommendation to conduct a detailed study of the different facilities and production methods currently used in the Ontario rabbit industry and the implementation of changes to both areas so that cleaning and disinfection practices can be improved and more standardized.

“Knowing what you’re buying, vaccinating your animals and using quarantine areas are key. It’s important to observe new animals coming in to make sure they’re not displaying any symptoms,” says Ferguson. “The knowledge is out there in the producer community but often, if you haven’t been stung by it, you’re not as likely to think about it. And there’s still a misconception out there that if you can buy livestock at the right price, it’s worth the risk but your costs will be higher in the end. ”

Trade in livestock has become much more expansive in recent years, adds Ferguson. Trucks travel further to take animals to market and producers are increasingly bringing livestock in from other parts of the province or even the country, which makes disease vigilance and focusing on biosecurity ever more important. And it can also represent a marketing opportunity for producers, he says.

“Keen buyers are requiring more history on the animals they’re buying and will be making this a market expectation,” he explains. “They can use this tool to differentiate in the market place. It’s evolving, but it can be something down the road that can help you maintain your markets during times when prices aren’t as good as they are now. “

Nationally, there’s also a strong focus on biosecurity and disease preparedness programs, which project co-ordinator Jennifer O’Rourke of the Ontario Livestock Alliance believes presents opportunity for the organizations involved.

“This will really help position our sectors to access funds under future programs,” says O’Rourke. “Taking that first step in establishing where the gaps lie was critical.”

Work on the next phase of the initiative, which will examine the costs of implementing improved on-farm biosecurity protocols and what the savings might be to farmers who make use of them, is now underway.

Funding for the project covering the beef, veal, sheep and goat sectors was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Adaptation Programming and administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council. The rabbit sector project was funded in part through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of Growing Forward in Ontario.

For more information on either project, contact the Ontario Livestock Alliance at 519-824-2942 or


Five on-farm biosecurity tips

  • Know the health status of the animals coming onto your farm
  • Follow vaccination and quarantine protocols.
  • Separate healthy and diseased animals
  • Keep feed and water free of contaminants
  • Restrict entry to production areas on-farm

 Written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.