Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Biosecurity -- the future of farming?

FUTURE: Animal health has a central part to play in maintaining consumer confidence in Irish food. Taking advice from Animal Health Ireland can allow you to do your bit for the industry
FUTURE: Animal health has a central part to play in maintaining consumer confidence in Irish food. Taking advice from Animal Health Ireland can allow you to do your bit for the industry
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

As food producers, farmers are expected to produce milk, meat and other foods that are of top quality and also meet the demands of a discerning consumer who wants food to be produced in a sustainable way for the environment and the animals involved.

Animal health has a major role to play in promoting consumer confidence in Irish food and in attracting new customers for produce. All of this may seem a long way from the daily grind of milking, feeding and dosing animals but every farmer needs to pay close attention to the changing demands of animal health standards.

Not only will a focused animal health strategy protect the industry as a whole but it will also boost profits on each individual farm.

Animal Health Ireland (AHI) is a veritable mine of useful information for all farmers and produces dozens of leaflets on health topics which are free to download from

Here, we take a look at what AHI has to say about one of the animal health buzzwords - 'biosecurity' and examine some diseases in more depth.


Threats to the health of your stock may come from both outside your farm and from within your farm. Protecting the health of animals on your farm by implementing simple preventative practices is called biosecurity.

There are two types of biosecurity practices. The first consists of actions you can take to reduce the risk of infectious disease coming into your farm and this is called bioexclusion.

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The second includes actions you can take to reduce spread of infectious diseases within your farm, known as biocontainment.

You can reduce (but not always eliminate) the risk of bringing-in disease by implementing bioexclusion practices.

Animal Health Ireland has produced a practical leaflet for farmers to help you improve and maintain a high level of bioexclusion, something that will become more and more important for expanding farmers.

Go to for 'Purchasing Stock: Reducing Disease Risks'.

The most significant disease threats to your stock from outside your farm are:

1. Direct disease spread from animals, most importantly from added animals and neighbouring animals;

2. Indirect disease spread, through (ranked in order of importance) farm visitors, slurry, animal equipment, wildlife, vermin and other animals, biological materials and the farm environment.

Direct disease spread

Added animals are those bought-in, 'borrowed' or returned from marts, shows or contract rearing premises. Therefore they can include both new animals and existing home-farm animals. Bought-in animals are the highest risk.

Many diseases are carried by animals that are not sick and appear completely normal. They are silent carriers which can bring disease into the herd quietly but effectively.

All ages of animals being bought in have disease risks.

The best and most obvious way to reduce the risk of new diseases coming into your herd from added animals is to close your herd and only purchase semen and embryos from reputable suppliers.

Remember, you don't have a closed herd if you do any of the following: buy in bulls, borrow bulls, exhibit at shows, share cattle-handling facilities, return unsold cattle to your farm, use common grazing or housing or have poor boundary fences.

Maintaining a closed herd may not always be possible because it may be incompatible with certain farming systems, for example in the contract rearing of heifers.

Therefore you need to stop and think about what steps you can take to reduce the chances of bringing new diseases into your herd with added animals.

Preventing disease spread from neighbouring herds

Good boundary fencing should prevent break-outs, break-ins, nose-to-nose contact between herds and reduce aerosol spread of infectious agents by livestock.

Double fencing may include electric fences, while ditches and hedging also reduce the risk of contact with neighbouring animals. These measures are also important on out-farms and with other species like sheep.

Be vigilant about maintaining stock-proof farm boundaries by rebuilding stone walls and blocking gaps in hedging.

Where possible, avoid grazing fields at the same time as your bounding neighbours' fields are also occupied with livestock.

Double-spaced boundary fencing with a gap of at least 5m should provide adequate protection.

Irish Independent