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A Practitioner’s Approach to On-Farm Biosecurity

01 April 2016, at 12:00am

This article outlines a practitioner’s approach to on-farm biosecurity to help protect against Bovine TB.

Farm biosecurity is a set of measures designed to reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of harmful organisms on farms - and it goes well beyond the provision of a bucket of disinfectant  at the farm entrance! 

As governments become increasingly aware of  the holistic role of biosecurity in managing TB risks on farms, it is important to understand the role of the farmer’s own vet in managing biosecurity risks on their clients’ farms.  We should also ask ourselves what evidence we have that biosecurity works.

In Wales, private veterinarians have recently become more engaged with the Wales TB Eradication Programme and are focusing on the delivery of biosecurity packages designed to ensure farmers are better informed about TB disease risks and risk reduction. The Gower Project and Cymorth TB initiative are good examples of how this is being achieved, offering approaches that could be adopted elsewhere:

The Gower Project

Launched in 2009 by the South East Wales Regional TB Eradication Delivery Board and funded by the Welsh Government, the Gower Project aims to support the eradication programme on the Gower Peninsula, through measures including enhanced biosecurity and cattle controls. The Project delivers a bespoke package of support activities to farmers including:

  • ‘TB Keep it Out’ themed on-farm best practice events:  Held at volunteer farms, including dairy farms, suckler cow beef farms and those with grazing cattle on common land, these events  introduce farmers to a risk-based approach to managing the threat of TB spread onto their farm.  Activities include farm walks led by private vets to visit biosecurity pinch points.  An assessment of risk is then carried out and practical risk reduction measures and improved husbandry practices discussed. Workshop style presentations are also made by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Welsh Government officials  in order to better inform farmers about testing and control processes, including legislation and policy.

Outcome

These best practice events have benefited farmers through presenting biosecurity as a valuable tool in the battle to eradicate TB.

They also present an opportunity to demonstrate the steps that other farmers are already  taking to keep TB out and to encourage discussion amongst farmers themselves - peer pressure is highly effective!  These events also help to prime farmers selected for individual advisory visits.

  • Individual farm TB biosecurity advisory visits:  Conducted by trained vets from local practices, these visits target those farms (about 30) with an on-going breakdown problem or which have suffered recurrent or recent breakdowns. The risk elements on each farm are recorded using a simple numerical scoring tool on a computer spreadsheet which then generates a risk score for the farm.  Farms are re-scored on the basis of a set of agreed, practical and cost-effective actions that the farmer is prepared to make. The score gives an indication of risk reduction as an outcome of the improvements made.  The use of numerical scores can demonstrate the concept of biosecurity to farmers in an easily understandable way - and in a way that affects their behaviour and make certain behaviours more visible.

Outcome 

The results of follow up visits to these farms, to evaluate progress, have highlighted improved farmer awareness about TB risks with most having carried out the measures agreed during the first visit.

The enhanced level of communication between the farmer and their local vet has also been perceived to be of great benefit.

In providing relevant, practical advice without overwhelming them with information, these visits have resulted in a more proactive and informed approach from the farmers to reducing risks on their farm.

  • The creation of a ‘Code of Conduct’ and packages agreed with the local commoners associations to better manage TB risks in a mixed grazing environment:  Given the particular risks associated with mixing cattle of an unknown disease status on common land, a code of practice (‘Commons Best Practice’) has been agreed following consultation between Eradication Board representatives, APHA officers and commoners. Local practitioners play a key role in the delivery of the Code of Conduct and associated packages with the emphasis on keeping the requirements simple and practical at a farm level.

Outcome

The packages have demonstrated the value of encouraging local practitioners to work more closely with their own farm clients to improve their understanding of TB transmission and risk.

A farmer’s own vet adds value and offers intelligence about the local disease situation, together with a thorough understanding of the health and welfare of the herd, including other concurrent diseases.  

Cymorth TB

Cymorth TB is a Welsh Government initiative introduced as a pilot in late 2013 and rolled out across Wales on 3 November 2015. OVs are upskilled through a training package which leads to a new OCQ (V) - Cymorth TB. This new qualification offers a more comprehensive approach to the management of TB breakdowns and gives guidance on offering a higher level of support to farmers under restriction.

The goal is to minimise the impact of the breakdown and to clear breakdowns up more quickly. Biosecurity is a central theme of Cymorth TB but it also includes advice on business continuity and contingency planning, and offers an overview of what happens in the event of a breakdown to ensure that farmers fully understand the process. Cymorth TB links farmers, OVs and government vets and is a good example of collaborative working.

Outcome

The Cymorth TB pilot highlighted the benefits and added value provided by trained OVs in managing TB and TB breakdowns on their own clients’ farms.
Outcomes and learnings so far have been captured in a comprehensive evaluation review carried out by Dr Gareth Enticott and his team at Cardiff University. It is available here: http://gov.wales/docs/drah/pub... 141120cymorthtbreport.pdf
It confirms that farmers felt that the Cymorth TB pilot gave them beneficial added support and that they believed that the involvement of their private vet in the management of TB gave them:

  • an understandable and accessible source of communication and advice
  • a tailored, trusted and empathetic service which took into account the particular economics of their farm
  • bespoke advice based on actual knowledge of their farm and their animals and themselves.

Farmers also highlighted a clear distinction between the role of private vets as experts in herd health and APHA vets as experts in legislation and licensing. 

OVs felt that being part of the Cymorth TB pilot enhanced their knowledge and the value they could offer as a private vet and helped them to understand the role they had to play in the eradication of TB through the wider roll-out of Cymorth TB. The report also showed evidence of improved communication between APHA and private vets.

These two initiatives highlight the range of approaches which can be utilised to help bring about a change in farmer attitudes and behaviour towards TB risks and which are delivering encouraging results in Wales. 

As this work shows, the drive to eradicate bovine TB is undoubtedly strengthened when farmers and their own private vets are engaged because it can build on their existing relationship and utilise their understanding of the health of the herd and their knowledge of the local disease situation.