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 high-risk source of bacterial contamination. The manure of chickens are often associated with salmonella and campylobacter. Allowing different animal species to share the same space has different levels of risk attached. Chicken poop either mixed in with hay or dropped in the paddock where it has not incorporated into the soil properly, may be ingested by cows. This is risky because there is a wide range of potentially harmful microorganisms that can be introduced, even botulism which can be lethal. Cows in the RDM herd 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 about the risks various feeds pose.
Also consider that the microorganisms in the gut of healthy adult cows and goats produce the enzyme phytase to eliminate anti-nutrients like phytic acid in grains, but chickens and pigs do not have this function. This means chickens and pigs on high grain diets cannot assimilate all the minerals and trace elements from their food, because phytic acid binds them. In truth, none of these animals are biologically designed to eat a high grain diet, and when they do, pathogens can eventually show up in their manure. It may affect their health, in a variety of ways, as well as their susceptibility to other diseases that may transfer between the various animal species.
It can be advantageous to lay down some ground rules. Farmers, 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, Listeria, E.coli or Campylobacter or other diseases straight into areas that should be protected. As already previously discussed, it may be necessary to put up permanent signs in the bottling room and the milking area that equipment in those individual areas may not leave, or be used outside of their designated areas, as a risk reduction strategy.
The sharing of paddocks for fertiliser services
Some farmers want to share the paddocks where the RDM herd graze with other farm animal species. They may want to allow chickens to move into the areas left behind by the RDM herd, and may bring up all sorts of arguments, like saying that the risks can be mitigated. Consider the following:
If chickens are given a lot of processed pellets and grains potentially sprayed with agrochemicals, their manure may be a high-risk for pathogens. However, if chickens have been pasture-raised for a long time, not receiving processed pellets and instead 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... It is not absolutely certain what the level of risk really is, unless you have an on-farm lab where you can research and determine these things. These arguments may be invalid for a country as risk-averse as Australia. There are viable alternatives though...
There is a way to fertilise the pasture that is more efficient, science-based and less risky than conventional animal manure use. Study the image below and see the Farm and Land category to learn about Dr Elaine Ingham's proven full scale biological restoration with compost or compost tea. Many farmers in Australia are already utilising her methods with great success. In this video, Elaine says that compost is not a fertiliser, it is an inoculum (a substance used for inoculation). Many soil scientists now show that pastures can benefit tremendously from:
the right kind of aerobic soil microbes
high diversity of plant species
the addition of cover crops and companion plants to permanent pastures
rotational grazing to avoid the overgrazing of favourite plants
adequate pasture resting time to allow knee-high forage
to produce abundant, nutrient-dense forage via nutrient cycling. Nutrient cycling is the symbiotic relationship between plants and soil microbes. According to soil scientists these aspects of regenerative farming creates pastures high in the right proportions of minerals and trace elements and leads to animals with robust health. Animals are more resistant to disease and there is less need for a vet because health problems disappear. Animal manure and synthetic fertiliser are not necessarily as efficient as many may consider them to be. Click to enlarge the image below:
Remember that Dr Christine Jones says that "only plants and their associate microbes can make fertile topsoil - and diversity of plants and microbes makes it even better". She also says that around 85 - 90% of plant nutrient acquisition is microbially mediated. This means that the minerals and trace elements, that keep animals in excellent health, are dependent on the presence of abundant beneficial soil microbes. It may also imply that without soil microbes doing the nutrient cycling with plants, animals get diseased and biosecurity issues may increase. Without key minerals, introduced regularly via the diet, all mammals eventually become more prone to disease and get sick. The key to the restoration of health for all in this system is to get the basics of soil right.
Limiting exposure to potential diseases outside of the farm
Veterinarians, in particular, can be a considerable risk to the raw dairy operation 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 their concerns to them. The raw dairy operation will not be pasteurising the milk, therefore it is good policy to take some precautions that keep disease away from the milking herd.
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. Some farmers may ask their vet to 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 car tyres that may contain manure or bacteria from other farms. There is a huge difference between how raw dairy farmers farm, and how other conventional farms operate.
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 can help to increase the health of cows and make them less susceptible to zoonoses or bacterial infections. This can be done via one of nature's systems: the nutrient cycling between plants and microbes. This produces more minerals and trace elements in the plants, to deliver robust health to the animals.
Recently the oldest solid cheese ever identified, dating back 3,200 years, was found in the tomb of Ptahmes, a mayor of the Egyptian city Memphis in the 13th century BC. Techniques revealed it was made from a mixture of cow milk and goat/sheep milk. The cheese was also contaminated by Brucella melitensis bacteria. According to Wikipedia, this bacterium can infect sheep, cattle and sometimes humans. If this bacterium has been around for ages, how did ancient civilisations live with it? It is possible that these societies had more resistance to bacterial infections, because they consumed more nutrient-dense, mineralised food. Dr. Elaine Ingham's research, discussed in-depth in the Farm and Land category, describes how ancient civilisations in Babylon in Mesopotamia made their own compost tea, which they used to fertilise the soil and increase nutrient cycling, which lead to healthier crops and pastures.
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 are also problematic for raw dairy farmers and these risks 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. There are many layers 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 are a low risk for my business?"
Some farmers may choose not to allow anyone from the public to have access to the milking herd. This is especially useful if the farm is located in a high risk area for bacterial infections or disease.
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 healthy 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. Remember that the risks of pathogens in pig manure increases when they are fed lots of grains or modern feeds like brewers grains. If this contaminates the water supply or shared river or waterways or the terrain around the dairy, farmers are increasing the chance of running into problems at some stage.
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.