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Biosecurity and husbandry advice

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Biosecurity is the way farmers and owners of farm animals can reduce the risk of disease.
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Good biosecurity and husbandry practices are important in reducing the risk of infection from bovine TB.

The risk of introducing TB

Given the chronic nature of bovine TB, it is not always easy to pinpoint its introduction into a herd. However, as a general principle, the disease is spread by:

  • direct contact with another infected animal
  • indirectly by contact with infected material in the environment, such as contaminated feed, pasture or bedding.

Moving cattle on to a farm increases the risk of introducing bovine TB and other diseases. Even in closed herds cattle can make contact with other cattle on neighbouring land, adding to the threat.

How to improve biosecurity

There are a series of common sense, precautionary measures that cattle farmers can take to improve biosecurity on their holding.

Keep your cattle away from neighbouring cattle

  • fences between farms must be suitably stock-proof
  • a double boundary fence (3m or more apart) should be considered to prevent nose-to-nose contact on shared boundaries
  • where contact could occur between cattle on neighbouring farms (gates, troughs and other gaps) a temporary electric fence can just as easily form a suitable barrier to prevent opportunities for contact and possible disease spread
  • wherever possible, prevent access to shared watercourses such as ponds or streams and provide piped water to troughs instead.

Know where bought-in animals have come from

  • seek advice about animal health from your vet before purchasing cattle
  • always know the origins of bought-in cattle. Although the herd may be TB free, it may be located in a high risk area
  • ask for appropriate evidence of the testing history of the source herd as well as dates of previous TB tests for all bought-in cattle. The TB passport sticker is an easy way to identify when cattle last had a clear test (only if purchased in Wales)
  • incoming cattle should have been pre-movement tested if coming from a high risk area
  • be aware of the disease risk from hired or shared cattle, including hired bulls. Where possible, breed your own replacements and/or use Artificial Insemination (AI)
  • be aware of the potential risk of introducing infection when cattle are returning from common grazing or unsold from markets
  • isolate incoming cattle in appropriate isolation facilities. When using a paddock/field for this purpose, make sure that no contact can be made with other cattle in your herd or with neighbouring cattle.

General good practice

  • cattle housing should be well ventilated - do not overstock cattle when housed
  • provide cattle with a balanced and nutritional diet
  • do not feed unpasteurised, high cell count milk to calves
  • keep cattle away from freshly spread cattle muck/slurry and dispose of cattle bedding so that they cannot gain access to it
  • work with your vet to formulate a health plan for your herd
  • have pressure washers, brushes, hoses and disinfectant available and make visitors use them
  • thoroughly clean and disinfect farm machinery, particularly if sharing equipment with a neighbouring farm, and insist contractors do the same.

Infection from badgers

TB transmission is further complicated by the fact that infection can be maintained in wildlife, particularly badgers. The disease can spread from cattle to badgers and vice versa.

Work done by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has shown that badgers frequently visit farm buildings and come into close contact with housed cattle. Certain cattle foods such as maize or whole crop silage, molasses licks and mineral blocks are particularly attractive to badgers. Some farming systems can make it easy for badgers to access feed, which can greatly increase the risk of TB being introduced into herds.

There are common sense, precautionary measures you can take to help protect your herd from possible TB infection from badgers.

Feed stores, cattle accommodation and farmyard

  • the use of solid gates / fences or electric fencing can help keep badgers out of buildings
  • any gaps between gates and fences and the ground should be less than 7.5cm; otherwise a badger will be able to get underneath it
  • if the floor surface is soft, a determined badger will scrape away at it, until the gap is big enough to get underneath
  • gates and walls should be at least 1.5 meters high. They should be sheer. If there are any potential footholds, a badger will be able to climb it
  • electric fencing should have 3 strands at 10cm, 15cm, and 20cm (with an optional 4th strand at 30cm)
  • badgers will frequently return to investigate areas even if they have been unable to gain access in the past.

At pasture

  • be aware of high risk areas e.g. badger latrines and active setts. A permanent or temporary fence should be considered to prevent opportunities for contact
  • intensive / extended grazing may encourage cattle to feed at the edge of the field where there is a greater risk of contamination from badger faeces and urine at badger latrines
  • avoid allowing cattle access to woodland
  • it is very difficult to badger-proof feed-troughs at pasture. Feed troughs in the field should be made more difficult for badgers to access them e.g. by raising them off the ground or using troughs which incorporate rollers around their edges
  • feed troughs can become contaminated by wildlife. Keep an eye out for such signs and clean feed troughs out regularly
  • molasses licks & mineral blocks should be made more difficult for badgers to access them e.g. raising them off the ground.

Manure management

  • studies have shown that Mycobacterium bovis can survive for up to 6 months in stored slurry
  • it is recommended that cattle do not graze pasture for 2 months after slurry / manure / dirty water has been applied on it.

Improving farm biosecurity videos

There is a series of videos demonstrating practical on-farm biosecurity measures to reduce bovine TB risks to cattle from wildlife. The videos have been jointly funded by Welsh Government, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Animal Disease Information System (NADIS). The videos are available below:

Video 1 – Introduction (external link)

Video 2 – Identifying badger activity (external link)

Video 3 – Biosecurity at pasture (external link)

Video 4 – Biosecurity in farm buildings – Part 1 (external link)

Video 5 – Biosecurity in farm buildings – Part 2 (external link)