Safe and Secure

“If it can move, it can carry diseases, pests and weeds.” *

Last week we met with Tristan Jubb, a Bendigo based vet,  who also specialises in biosecurity issues, working in export marketing and with national livestock bodies.

When you think of ‘biosecurity’ do you think of apples and New Zealand, or frozen berries and China? Well these international issues may be a lot more than just ‘bio’ and also about ‘trade’ and ‘political’ security. Look a lot closer to home and ‘biosecurity’ becomes an issue for every farm, everywhere.

Basically, biosecurity is about managing the on-farm animal and plant health risks, to ensure a clean, healthy environment – and food – for everyone. It’s also about safeguarding farm futures and livelihoods.

We are organic certified, so the issues of managing risk are a lot more familiar to us through the annual organic audit processes. Though in this case, it’s more about managing the risk from contamination through conventional (non-organic) inputs into our operations. So the focus is on buffer areas between us and our neighbours, aiming for peak animal and soil health, and supply chain tracking of our certified organic inputs.

As well, we have the more regular, very intensive, audits of our dairy and cheesemaking operations, covered by our HACCP and Dairy Food Safety Victoria audits. Their focus is on public safety and confidence in our product. Our processing activities have a constant concentration on health and safety for humans and animals alike, but what about the rest of the farm?

This is where biosecurity comes in. It’s no good having all these well documented and well managed systems in the processing part of our business, if the farming side is open to compromise. Last year we had some animal health issues and in dealing with the problem we met Tristan Jubb. We’ve been working with Tristan on developing a biosecurity plan for the farm, but without any trade and political complications!

Most farmers think their farm is ‘clean’ because nothing ever happens, but this thinking is very dangerous. It’s especially important for us, as we aim to refresh and improve our herd genetics. We want to ensure any bucks we bring onto the farm are not also bringing latent or undetected health issues. The same goes for machinery, people, other animals, or any other organic inputs that come through our front gate (or through fences, or via other vectors like birds or foxes, kangaroos or rabbits…) Tristan coins this PATIO – People, Animals, Things Inorganic (machinery, vehicles, etc) and Organic Things (feed, water, seed, etc).

Tristan gave us a run down on the basics of biosecurity and how we might look at protecting the integrity of our farm at three points; before it gets to the gate, at the gate, and after it gets through the gate. Keeping these three levels of protection in mind, all the time and at once, are critical.

No farm is an island, but by improving our farm’s resistance to disease (and pests and weeds and …) and concurrently reducing its exposure to pathogens (and pests and weeds and …) we are in a much stronger space. ‘Resistance’ focuses on good nutrition, minimal stress levels, good shelter, low worm burdens, good genetics, etc. ‘Exposure’ means ensuring high levels of cleanliness and hygiene, reducing opportunities for pathogens/problems to build up. The real challenge is to keep resistance and exposure levels at odds and apart, whilst at the same time being cost effective.

One sick goat might be just an ill animal, but at the same time it may also be an indicator of a much bigger issue, so by keeping resistance and exposure as far apart as possible, we increase the odds of having just one sick goat.

Ovine Johnes Disease (OJD), Q Fever and  Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) are the primary disease and environmental health concerns for dairy goat farmers, then follows worms and enterotoxaemia. We can ensure our biosecurity plan addresses these five main issues by looking at the management, environmental and animal factors that contribute to them. For example, with Johnes, we can source disease free bucks (pre-entry/gate), carry out clinical testing of blood and faeces and quarantine the animals (point of entry/at the gate) and vaccinate other goats (post entry/through the gate).

Our next step is to have another session on the farm to discuss the principles, and then start developing our plan for the farm. We can see already where things might be changed, more attention paid, and by walking around the farm with PATIO on our mind.

There are many reasons for farms to be serious about biosecurity. It’s about ensuring the people that work on the farm are safe and healthy, as well as the animals and plants they look after. It’s about immunising the business (not just the animals) against risk, and improving our production and farm efficiencies.

Most of all it is about security and peace of mind, for us, and for everyone who eats our cheese.

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