As I got out of my vehicle and walked into the cow barn at my friend’s dairy farm last week, I asked myself, “Does he know where my shoes and clothes have been since I left home this morning?” It’s all too easy for me to hop in the truck at my farm and, in the same clothes and shoes that I’ve been working in, pop over to his place. Does he care where I’ve been walking? It also seems that the TMR mixer repairman or the milking equipment dealer can also walk anywhere in his barn without him showing concern. I do know that his AI Tech and Vet both take care to wash their footwear on both entry and exit from his farm. However, both those individuals know the cost of disease and carrying contamination between farms.
Two months ago I visited a broiler farm being run by the children of my college classmate. There was a sign at the entry gate to the farm informing all visitors that they were to check at the farm office at the back of the house before proceeding further along the farm lane. At the office, I was served coffee and a sweet but at no time was there any consideration of allowing me anywhere near the exterior door to the poultry barn. Repairmen coming on that farm are given orders to put on completely clean shoes and clothes. I know for sure that the feed delivery truck must have its wheels hosed off before entering and after exiting that farm. These consistent rules are friendly but secure at the same time.
FACT: Dairy producers remain behind their counterparts in the pork and poultry industries on this front called biosecurity.
The differences probably arise from tradition. Dairy cattle breeders like to see cows in the flesh and welcome opportunities to view the four-legged results of their labours. Poultry producers talk in terms of net return per kg of quota and are focused on producing a healthy product. They are well aware of the devastation that even a minor outbreak of disease can do to ruin the profit potential. Beyond the health of their flock, they also have the desire to guarantee the consumer the safe and biosecure product they demand. If you are thinking that we in the dairy industry do not need to worry about that, then think again. In time, and likely not a long time, it will be a global standard.
In temperate climates, where there is freezing during the winter, endemic zooenotic diseases are far less common than in tropical climates. This quickly became evident to me when I was consulting in the Middle East and witnessed firsthand that our dairy cattle had to be kept in eight foot high walled cow lots so that the native animals did not share their multitude of diseases. The end result from these precautions is that the producers in those countries profit from selling a safe, high quality product.
In truth dairy farmers often are not aware of the incidence or level of a disease on their farms. As well they frequently do not know the cost associated with diseases. A good example is fact that many producers do not see the need to register in state or provincial Johnes eradication programs. It is reassuring to see the leadership state, provincial, university and industry officials are providing in developing programs to eliminate positive animals. However, are we being too complacent in buying in? At the end of the day do we want to ask ourselves, “Is it comfortable to produce a product that we know we cannot guarantee as being safe and secure from disease contamination? “ Of course, the answer is, “No!”
Just last year I had a discussion with Canada’s Chief Veterinary Officer about what happens on the farms of Canada’s trading partners when it comes to biosecurity and what those countries are likely to require to happen in Canada, if they are to sign trade agreements with us in the future. He spoke in terms of setting in place systems to monitor on-farm biosecurity which would be joint government and industry initiatives. Additionally he spoke about the need to fast track systems of recording, monitoring and guaranteeing healthy food products in Canada.
Producing nature’s most perfect food does not only involve the production but also the obligation that the product is guaranteed free of any contamination. We all need to get behind the efforts needed at the farm and industry level to guarantee biosecurity. It is part of the future success of dairy farming.