The best intentions only get you so far, especially when it comes to biosecurity.

You’ve attended the seminars, you’ve consulted your veterinarian, you’ve even drawn up a program and trained employees. Your biosecurity program is up and running – or is it?

You may have started out with the best intentions, but are you sure the program is still on track?

Biosecurity has to be a total package, and it has to be implemented throughout the operation. Over time, it’s easy to let things slip and not even notice.

Veterinarian Walter Heuser, Steinbach, Canada, says producers tend to focus on certain, high-risk areas and may become less diligent in others. On every operation, there’s likely room to inject a burst of steam into the biosecurity program.

Live-animal Introductions

“Live-animal introductions have to constitute the greatest risk to a farm’s health status,” says Heuser. “Yet, the commercial industry has been lax in adopting quarantines.”

He lists the “must haves” for a quarantine program.

  • A quarantine period must be 30 days, although 60 days is preferred.
  • The quarantine period can be a gilt-pool management tool. “It can become the additional gilt-pool space that is lacking on so many sites,” says Heuser. It’s an opportunity to put more age and weight on gilts, and let them cycle before mating.
  • The quarantine unit can be on the same site as the sow unit, he says, in order to accommodate management, access, utility services and so forth. However, it should be at least 600 feet from the main unit, and positioned downstream from prevailing wind patterns. Also use trees and bushes to further create a barrier between the quarantine unit and sow unit.
  • Unless you have a dedicated quarantine staff, make sure employees work the isolation facility at day’s end. Don’t let them hurry through the tasks, as they may want to do so they can finish for the day.
  • The quarantine unit’s biosecurity rules have to be the same as for the main unit. This applies to people entering – shower-in, wear unit-specific boots and clothes – rodent and bird control, introduction of supplies. “These procedures are not always handled as well as in the sow unit,” says Heuser, “and that is dangerous.”
  • At the end of the quarantine period, animals must be blood tested. You can use a statistically random sample, providing a 95/5-confidence, says Heuser. Tests should include porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, Mycoplasmal pneumonia, possibly TGE, swine influenza virus and Actinobacillius pleuropneumonia.

Boar Semen Introduction

There’s no doubt that boar semen can present herd-health risks, and artificial insemination can rapidly spread a disease if left undetected. “Currently our concern is PRRS virus, but the thought on everyone’s mind is the next ‘mystery virus’,” says Heuser.

The industry is moving toward PRRS PCR testing of every semen collection. Advances in long-term semen extenders and real-time PCR, with rapid results turnaround, will continue to make that an everyday practice, he notes.

Biosecurity protocols for AI units are just as critical as for sow units. “Veterinarians have to constantly challenge owners and employees to maintain their vigilance,” says Heuser. He advises routine veterinarian biosecurity audits of AI units.

Transporting Animals

Transportation is a high-risk area that the industry needs to be more vigilant in addressing. Pork production is “an industry on wheels,” says Heuser. There are many ways that your herd can be contaminated, but there also are many ways to protect your herd.

  • Designate specific trailers to move breeding stock versus commercial stock.
  • Designate specific trailers to move animals from Site I to Site II (to protect the sow herd.)
  • Designate specific trailers to move animals from Site III to slaughter – this has the highest risk for trailer contamination.
  • Establish specific and strict washing, disinfecting and drying protocols for vehicles.
  • Conduct third-party trailer audits after washing.
  • Establish trucking protocols based on the network pyramid. When you use a commercial trucking service, be sure that the company is professional, conscientious and dedicated to doing the best possible job.
  • Company officials should talk to you and your veterinarian when they change protocols or plan to expand service.
  • Individuals outside of the company should be involved in ongoing quality control, such as bacteriological swabbing, truck-wash audits and so forth.
  • The company should provide an inspector to audit washing, drying and disinfecting protocols for customers who request it.
  • Drying is an important component of the cleaning process. “We often request certain periods of downtime between loads – two to three nights – particularly when moving breeding stock,” says Heuser.

People Factors

The debate continues on whether and to what degree people present a biological risk in terms of carrying pathogens between operations or within a herd.

Downtime carries the biggest question mark. Increasingly research suggests that downtimes have gotten out of hand. The protocol has added costs, restricted veterinary and service personnel access, and made the industry somewhat “mysterious to the public because of restricted access,” says Heuser.

Studies at the University of Minnesota and Purdue University reveal that a shower, thorough hand-washing and changing clothes/boots are the critical steps.

It is true, however, that people can serve as a mechanical vector, actually carrying pathogens on their clothes, shoes, equipment or hands. But again, there are ways to head off this risk.

  • Vehicles must be kept clean, not just the exteriors, but also disinfecting floor mats. Again, University of Minnesota research shows that people can inadver-tently track pathogens into vehicles and operations.
  • Visitors should put plastic boots on over their street shoes upon exiting their vehicle to enter the unit (but without touching the floor mats.)
  • If possible, set up an ante-building before the main unit where shoes are removed and replaced with “travel shoes” to walk to the main unit. Remember that these ante-buildings and rooms still need to be kept clean. 
  • Another option is to provide a bench positioned at a doorway, which signifies where outside boots have to be removed. The correct way to do this is to remove boots on the “dirty” side, swing socked feet over to the “clean” side without touching the floor and put on boots designated for inside the building.
  • Require a shower-in policy. The shower design has to honor the “dirty-side/clean-side” flow, notes Heuser. Shower facilities must be clean, warm and tidy so the policy is accepted. Towels must be clean and fresh.

Mechanical Vectors

You may be diligent about the other aspects of biosecurity, but then overlook things like tools, equipment, boxes and coolers entering buildings. University of Minnesota researchers have shown these items to be factors in PRRS virus transmission. There are a variety of ways to minimize the risk that supplies pose.

  • Preferably, supplies entering units are new. If not, they need to be cleaned, disinfected and dried. One option is to provide a disinfection room. Mechanical foggers can be used to disinfect the entire room and its contents. Materials should be placed on perforated flooring so that all sides are disinfected.
    If that’s not an option, at least spray supplies with Lysol or soak equipment in disinfectant and dry them.
  • Exterior packages and cardboard boxes should remain outside – only the contents should enter the building.
  • Service people such as plumbers and electricians present a challenge because they need to bring specialized equipment into the unit. “It’s appropriate to ask for a period of pig-free downtime,” says Heuser.
  • Each barn should have its own set of basic tools on site for routine maintenance.

Rodents, Insects, Birds

These critters can serve as mechanical or biological disease vectors. “The common problem we see is commitment to control programs at the start of a new operation, but then follow through wanes as years go by,” notes Heuser.

Here are some basic tips:

  • Follow good building maintenance to minimize entry access by rodents. This includes removing weeds, grass and debris. Also, a perimeter of crushed rock around a building is still a useful deterrent.
  • Use a pest-control company to ensure that rodenticide placement and maintenance gets done.
  • Promptly remove spilled feed, dead stock, bedding or other materials that attract rodents.
  • Bird screens can be effective in preventing entry into mechanically or naturally ventilated buildings.
  • Insect control presents more of a challenge. For now, removing low-lying swamp areas around facilities is one option.

Dead Stock Removal

“Dead stock removal is an often-overlooked risk point on a farm,” says Heuser.

  • Locating a dead stock bin, away from the facility and near the road for rendering pick up is still a wise suggestion. It does, however, make it more visible to the public.
  • Composting is an option, but it requires commitment and maintenance to keep it working well, and to discourage rodents and flies.
  • Incineration is effective, but its use will depend on local laws and operation size.

This is not an all-inclusive list of biosecurity steps, rather these are areas that can present risks over time. You may be able to check all of them off as part of your biosecurity protocol. The question is can you check them off as being done thoroughly every day, all the time?