Biosecurity Policies or Measures
Risk Category 3
This is part of an 11 category program to help farmers learn to identify and manage the unique risks on their farm. This may help them to grow a food safety mindset, that may enable them to write their own food safety plans for the production of raw drinking milk. In Australia raw milk from cows for human consumption, is only allowed if you own the animal, but that doesn't stop farmers from becoming acquainted with practises that are delivery great results overseas. Farmers may need to read the introduction first before continuing on this page: Introduction to the Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program
Biosecurity, in this case, is about preventing infectious diseases from spreading to and from livestock. It protects your herd, your raw dairy business and the raw milk which is a live product. Australia and each of its states have their own preventative measures to protect animals and humans from disease and pests, but it is also useful to manage biosecurity on the raw dairy farm. Farm biosecurity is the responsibility of the dairy farmer, the family and employees to enforce and the policies can be written in the food safety program. Don't expect other people to take the necessary precautions, because they may disappoint you. Customers who come from the city know nothing about these things, so put up warning signs if you don't want them to go into specific areas.
Managing multi-species animals on the farm
It is perfectly fine to keep various animal species on the farm; the key is the management. Animals like pigs, chickens and other poultry are best kept separate from the RDM herd, because their manure can be a source of bacterial contamination. The manure of chickens are often associated with salmonella and campylobacter. It is best to keep them confined to their own area at all times. Allowing different animal species to share space has different levels of risk attached. RDM cows may receive the best kind of feed, but other animal species on the same farm may be consuming lots of grains or spent brewers grain, which may be creating pathogens inside the animal, which shed in their manure and contaminate the environment. See the Feed category to learn more on the risks various feeds pose, even to other animal species.
It can be advantageous to lay down some ground rules. You can establish a policy in your Risk Assessment Management Plan that family members and employees who come into contact with other animals on the farm take certain precautions before touching or interacting with the milking herd. Actions, like collecting eggs, feeding the chickens, even feeding or working with calves, can be a source of contamination for the milking herd, or the milk in the milking parlour or processing room. Chicken manure can potentially get lodged into the soles of boots and may find their way into the milking parlour or other areas. These things need to be considered. Policies and procedures that manage biosecurity successfully can be woven into the RAMP and the Standard Operating Procedures document with great success if adequately enforced by the farmer. See the SOP for some examples.
As discussed in the Bottling risk category, there should be policies to ensure that all utensils used in specific areas should stay in those areas. We do not want staff to take a bucket from the bottling/processing room, use it to feed the chickens outside, and then return it to the bottling room. The bucket may have been placed directly onto chicken manure or some other contaminant. That is an unacceptable risk as it can transfer potentially harmful microbes like Salmonella or Campylobacter straight into areas that should be protected.
Some people argue that they want the different animal species to share some space. They say that the risks can be managed if properly considered. Some feel that they want to allow chickens to move into areas left behind by cows. If chickens are given lots of processed pellets and grains potentially sprayed with chemicals, their manure may be high-risk for pathogens. However, if chickens have been pasture-raised for a long time, receiving no processed pellets and minimal grain produced chemical-free on the farm, that may influence the level of risk their manure may pose. Consider these things carefully and responsibly... as it is not absolutely certain what the level of risk really is. These arguments may be invalid for a country as risk-averse as Australia.
Limiting exposure to potential diseases outside of the farm
Veterinarians, in particular, can be a considerable risk because they can travel to a variety of other animal operations during the day and by the time they visit the raw dairy farm, they can carry disease-causing bacteria or fluids from other sick animals with them. It can be on their shoes, their clothes, their equipment and even on their car tires. It is perhaps a good strategy for the raw dairy farmer to build a good relationship with his/her veterinarian and explain the risks to them. It can be a good risk reduction strategy to arrange for your vet to visit the farm first thing in the morning when they are dressed in fresh clothing. As a special precaution due to the risks they may pose to your operation, the vet can perhaps take a few other sanitation and hygiene measures before visiting. They can possibly leave their car near the farm gate so they do not have to drive all the way up to the dairy or other areas with tires that may contain manure or bacteria from other farms.
Limiting access to the herd on the neighbouring farm to minimise the possibility of bacterial infection
Allowing the milking herd to have contact with cows from neighbouring farms can be a risk because it is possible for cattle who carry pathogens and other harmful bacteria to transfer them. Animals who eat a lot of brewers grain, distillers grain and even mixed feeds on neighbouring farms can be carriers for the dangerous form of E.coli for example, see the Feed risk category for more. If your milking herd has contact with these animals, the bacteria can transfer through the nose to nose contact and then shed in the manure of your herd. Mark McAfee explains that this is possible because it has happened to them before. Organic Pastures Dairy has an on-farm laboratory where they can determine these things.
Limiting access between your herd and the one next door is another practical way to restrict bacterial infections like Mycoplasma Bovis. Recently New Zealand MPI announced than 22,000 cattle need to be culled to stop its spread. According to this article: "it is mainly spread through 'nose to nose' contact between cattle through mucus and bodily fluids, and by direct contact with between infected animals and equipment which has been used on infected animals." Watch the video below for a better understanding of the developments in New Zealand. Find the full story here. Many see it as senseless killing since the animals on some farms have not actually tested positive for Mycoplasma Bovis, see this petition. Turn up volume:
Please remember that there is a difference between Mycoplasma Bovis and Mycobacterium Bovis (bovine tuberculosis). Both are bacterial infections though. The Cow Health risk category explores some of the strategies that may help to increase the health of cows and make them less susceptible to bacterial infections. Also remember that in Australia Bovine Tuberculosis was eradicated in 1997 and Brucellosis in 1989; however it still pays for the raw dairy farmer to manage their herd with caution by implementing the policies in their food safety plan. Also, see the Feed risk category to learn how unwanted bacterial risks can find their way in via feed. Some agrochemicals also seem to create problems for raw dairy farmers that can be avoided by banning them from the farm, and adding the policy to the food safety program, more here.
The raw dairy farmer already takes many precautions to ensure that the herd is healthy and kept free from potential sources of harm. This is just another layer that can be added to the list. It is up to the business owner to decide what is the level of risk on the individual farm, and what mitigating strategies would work best. Imposing a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best way to deal with these matters. In cases such as these umbrella regulation can be stifling and limiting. Utilising the individualised approach of a food safety plan (RAMP) is very useful.
Please read all of the 11 risk categories to get a holistic picture of how the various bacterial risks can be mitigated.
Farm visitors with compromised immune systems
Some visitors who come from the city with compromised immune systems may be both a risk to your healthy animals and visa versa. Mark McAfee explores this topic at around the 22 minute time marker of the video presentation on how to write a RAMP plan on this webpage. Unfortunately, visitors with a compromised immune system don't wear labels on their foreheads. Farmers can provide disinfectant to all people who are going to interact with the animals and ask them to wash their hands first. In some cases disposable footwear is appropriate. Farmers can also warn all visitors that if they have immune challenges, is it perhaps better if they do not interact with the farm's animals, as some city folk's immune systems may have difficulties adapting. People who have recently had antibiotics or eat lots of sterilised foods often do not have a farm-based immunity. This is another area where the individual farmer need to ask: "what is the level of risk on my farm?" Or "what risks can I take because they carry a low risk for my business?" Some farmers may choose not to allow anyone from the public to have access to the milking herd.
Keeping a bull
Keeping a bull on the farm is a significant risk because this animal is often aggressive, dangerous and extra safety measures have to be taken. There are farmers however who choose to keep their own bull, for a variety of reasons. Cast Iron Farm in Oregon, U.S.A. who is RAWMI-listed, chose to maintain a closed herd. They keep a bull on the property to service the cows so they are not exposed to diseases from a rented bull, or by technicians that travel around to many different farms carrying potential diseases. They rarely bring new cows into the herd, limiting diseases from an outside herd. This is a good risk reduction strategy if you are prepared to manage the risks surrounding the management of the bull.
Bringing new animals into the herd
It can be a good risk reduction strategy to keep a closed herd, however some small and growing dairies have to introduce new heifers when replacements can't be found from the farm's own herd. Farmers can get registered cows in from a healthy pre-tested herd from a pasture-based farming operation. Some suppliers may have a documented management history and the farmer can ask to see if the animals recently had a diet of high risk feeds like distillers grain or silage. Or farmers can build a relationship with a supplier and explain why they are more averse to the risk of biological threats than the usual buyer. It can also be useful to isolate new stock for observation regardless of assurances given.
Animals from stockyards or auctions can be very high risk because they have mingled with many other animals from different farms. These animals are often near the end of their lives or not good milk producers. Farmers tend to keep their best and most productive animals and dispose of those who don't earn their keep. Mark McAfee also advises against bargain cows and from a confinement herd, and to get the quality high priced ones instead. He also advises that the new cow be segregated in a quarantine area for up to four weeks to allow for observation and testing of her milk for high somatic cell counts or pathogens. Raw Milk Institute common standards require that all new animals to the milking herd receive a health screening for potential bacterial hazards and are segregated.
Some raw dairy farmers may choose to keep pigs because it is a great way of disposing of excess milk or milk that is not suitable to be sold for human consumption. Instead of wasting milk that isn't perfect (but pathogen-free), it can be fed to the pigs. Keeping pigs on the farm can be a risk to the milking herd but if it is managed well, there is no reason not to keep a diversity of animal species.
The introduction of second-hand used equipment on the farm can also be a risk because there is no way of knowing what sort of contaminants or diseases they carry. The feed can be another risk factor, see the Feed risk category where they are discussed in detail. Low input biological farming is a great way to both keep the animals healthy and keep potential dangers out. Some farms have pastures that support 100% grass-feeding and this can be an excellent way of eliminating the risks that inputs like feeds can pose, as you simply do not need to buy them or bring them in. When the farmers don't till the land, many more risks are reduced as discussed in the Farm and Land Conditions risk category.