Biosecurity recommendations for dairy and beef cattle operations


Source: Michigan State University

Cora Okkema, Jerad Jaborek, Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension and Zelmar Rodriguez, DVM, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine

Producers are reminded to review their farm’s biosecurity practices, paying close attention to management procedures when dealing with suspected sick cows.

Protecting your herd from disease and illness is always important. With recent outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) cattle farmers should have a heightened awareness of symptomatic cattle and continue to engage in biosecurity practices on the farm. Producers should work closely with their herd veterinarian if they observe clinical signs of illness and to enhance the biosecurity of their operation.  

Early identification of sick cattle is essential to minimize the spread of disease amongst individual animals and across herds. If these signs are observed in cattle, producers should immediately communicate with their herd veterinarian.

Signs of HPAI in cattle

  • Reduced feed intake 
  • decreased rumen motility  
  • reduced milk production  
  • abnormal, tacky or loose manure  
  • low-grade fever 
  • Milk from infected cows appears as thicker, concentrated, colostrum-like milk that may be discolored (yellow to brown) 

In response to this outbreak, farms should complete a thorough review of their farm’s biosecurity practices that focus both on cattle and human health and safety. Proactive implementation of biosecurity measures could reduce the negative economic impact of an HPAI outbreak in your herd. Listed below are recommended biosecurity practices for all cattle farms:  

Employee Biosecurity 

  • Do not drink raw milk 
  • Have dedicated footwear for the farm
    • All staff leave boots and footwear used on the farm in a location indicated by the farm for safe storage 
    • All footwear used on the farm must be cleaned and disinfected, including sides and bottoms, prior to storing them  
  • Wear clean clothes & shoes to the farm 
    • If you come into contact with other livestock, clothing and footwear should be changed before coming to the farm   
  • Practice good hygiene, wash hands frequently  
    • Influenza viruses are highly sensitive to soap and hot water. 
    • Do not eat around animals or in the barn 
  • Limit entry to the farm for people and workers  
    • Visitors entering the farm should wear clean or disposable clothing and footwear 
    • Maintain a visitor log for all farm locations, collect visitor contact information 
  • Monitor employees for potential symptoms of HPAI: 
    • Fever (Temperature of 100°F [37.8°C] or greater) or feeling feverish/chills 
    • Cough 
    • Sore throat 
    • Difficulty breathing/Shortness of breath 
    • Eye tearing, redness or irritation 
    • Headaches 
    • Runny or stuffy nose 
    • Muscle or body aches 
    • Diarrhea 

Farm Biosecurity 

  • When introducing new animals to the dairy, isolate them for two weeks and monitor their health before mixing them with the existing herd 
  • Employees who handle cattle should be aware of clinical signs to help monitor the disease 
  • Milk and care for sick animals last, disinfect all handling and care equipment afterward 
  • Prior to shipping cattle to your farm, know the health history of the herds from which cattle are purchased  
    • All cattle shipped across state lines must have official interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) filled out by a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accredited veterinarian
  • Trucks and trailers transporting cattle should be cleaned and disinfected. Implement disinfection protocols on all farm and transport equipment 
  • Implement a rodent/pest control program 
  • Try to reduce the flow of people between farm sites and the commingling of people from multiple production sites in common places 
    • If employees move between sites, change or disinfect footwear, (clothing, if possible) and wash hands  
  • Control traffic onto and around your farm operation, only vehicles/equipment/people essential to operation should be traveling into animal areas 
    • This includes limiting people’s access to cattle pens, feed mixing/storage areas, feed bunks and cattle treatment areas 
  • Maintain a visitor log for all farm locations, collect visitor contact information 
    • Employees  
    • Visitors 
    • Non-farm employed service providers: hoof-trimmers, nutritionists, breeding technicians, etc. 
  • Non-farm service providers should park in a designated location and practice biosecurity practices such as wearing single use, single farm washable clothing, disposable footwear, or completely disinfecting their footwear and animal handling equipment. 
    • Frequent handwashing is advised 
  • If composting, dead animal management should be the last task of the day  
    • If rendering, locate the dead animal pick-up away from all animal spaces and facilities 
  • Be aware that wet weather conditions have the potential to increase pathogen transfer  

When sick cows are suspected 

  • Isolate, segregate and reduce points of direct contact between well and sick animals 
  • Notify your herd veterinarian to decide if proceeding with sampling and confirmatory testing 
  • Reduce human exposure to animals suspected of being sick 
    • Wear eye covering, masks and gloves when working with suspected sick animals to reduce contraction of disease through airborne particles 
    • Avoid contact between hands and face, especially the eyes and mouth, while working with suspected or confirmed sick animals 
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes after contact with suspected or confirmed sick cattle and surfaces that may be contaminated with saliva, mucous or manure 
    • Change your clothes before contact with healthy cows. Throw away gloves, facemask and wash your hands with soap and water 

Example biosecurity plans, practices and resources for cattle can be found by visiting the Secure Milk Supply or the Beef Quality Assurance websites. These resources include proper cleaning and disinfection processes which have the potential to help stop the spread of HPAI.  

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Develop is working with federal partners to closely monitor and address this situation. According to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease and Prevention, commercial milk supply remains safe due to both federal animal health requirements and pasteurization. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL)  initial testing has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans, the current risk to the public remains low. 

Producers who suspect HPAI in their herd should contact their veterinarian who can provide treatment recommendations, determine if testing is needed, and coordinate sampling with Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (VDL). 


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