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Utilize your veterinarian to improve your herd’s biosecurity

Dennis Klugkist for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 April 2019
Utilize your veterinarian

Beginning in September 2019, dairy producers will need to comply with the requirements under the biosecurity module of proAction. This module is made up of seven requirements which all producers must complete or implement on their farm.

It is designed to actively encourage cooperation between dairy farmers and their herd veterinarians. This necessary cooperation between producers and veterinarians provides an opportunity for producers to utilize their veterinarians’ knowledge and expertise to develop strategies to improve animal health and biosecurity.



Biosecurity is a series of practices that aims to exclude, manage and contain the spread of disease between farms, within a farm and between different animal populations. Good biosecurity practices not only maintain consumer confidence in the dairy industry but also ensure profitability and access to foreign markets for dairy genetics.

The swine and poultry industries have long understood that complete exclusion of pathogens on a farm is the most cost-effective way to manage disease. Disease on a dairy can lead to decreased milk production, premature culling, increased mortality, reproduction losses and an increase in treatment costs.

One of the requirements of the biosecurity module is the completion of the biosecurity risk assessment with your herd veterinarian. This is a great opportunity to discuss with your veterinarian the diseases you feel are the greatest risk to your herd.

Utilize your veterinarian’s knowledge to control the spread of these diseases within your herd and to prevent new threats from entering. The risk assessment will highlight areas of greatest risk on your operation, and you can use these results to guide recommendations for the implementation of specific control practices.

Another requirement is the recording of specific disease events for both cows and calves. For cows, this includes the recording of abortions, lameness, mastitis, diarrhea, pneumonia and death. Included in calf recording are those that have had pneumonia, diarrhea and death. While many producers already record treatment events, this specific requirement asks for disease events regardless of whether there was treatment or not. Many mild cases of lameness or diarrhea are never recorded, and often mild cases of mastitis not treated with an antibiotic are also never noted.


While recording disease events could seem cumbersome, there is valuable information to be gleaned from the records. Encourage your veterinarian to review disease records regularly to help establish a complete picture of the herd’s performance. A sudden increase in mild calf diarrhea can go unnoticed if not recorded, but early detection through good records could prevent a sudden diarrhea outbreak. Recording of disease data will not be meaningful unless it is monitored and managed appropriately to control outbreaks of disease and improve the overall health status of the herd.

An effective and up-to-date vaccination standard operating procedure (SOP) is important to prevent the establishment of infectious disease within a herd. The biosecurity module requires that every herd consult with their veterinarian to establish a vaccination protocol. If a farm already has one, it would be beneficial to review the vaccination protocol to see if any changes could be made to the current protocol, the timing of the vaccinations and even if they are being handled and administered properly. This is also a good time to review the vaccination of new cattle coming into the herd and how that will be accomplished.

The biosecurity module also requires producers establish SOPs in consultation with their herd veterinarian to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases. These specific SOPs are required when a producer adds new cattle to the herd from outside the farm and for those animals that have left the herd, been in contact with other cattle and then returned to the farm. This, for example, could be cattle that have left to go to a show, gone to an embryo transfer facility or those that may be co-owned by several producers.

Utilizing your veterinarian’s knowledge of infectious disease can help you determine which diseases you should be concerned about, what health information you should request prior to the purchasing of new cattle and how to monitor the health of these newly arrived animals. In addition, your veterinarian can help you determine what testing should be done prior to or once the new animals have arrived.

Johne’s disease, bovine leukosis, mycoplasma and Staph. aureus are some examples of diseases that could be brought onto the farm by cattle and could be prevented by testing prior to the cattle arriving or shortly after they have arrived. The cost of taking milk cultures to screen for a pathogen such as Staph. aureus on all new or returning cattle coming on-farm is far more cost-effective than having to deal with an outbreak in your herd because it was brought in. The purchase of cattle with infectious disease can prove costly but, by using testing methods that are simple, affordable and cost-effective, the risk can be decreased.

The last requirement that needs to be completed in consultation with your veterinarian is the establishment of an SOP to prevent the introduction of infectious disease by persons coming onto the farm. This includes the veterinarian, nutritionist, service personnel, employees, family members or visitors. Protocols should be established to develop restricted access areas, as well as procedures for cleaning both footwear and clothing when individuals come onto and leave the farm.


Discuss with your veterinarian which products are best for disinfecting footwear and other tools used on-farm (i.e., hoof knives, stomach tubes etc.). Different procedures can be developed for individuals based on their risk as well. For example, your veterinarian would be considered high-risk since he or she frequents other farms and often deals with diseased cattle, and as such should be leading by example and following the established on-farm protocol.

The biosecurity module provides a great opportunity to interact with your veterinarian and go over health and vaccination protocols that may have been neglected over time and to ensure current protocols are working. Begin to record all disease events on farm and encourage your veterinarian to routinely review records to look for areas of concern.

Finally, ask your veterinarian for advice when designing the SOPs required for the biosecurity module. By working together and practicing good biosecurity, we can increase the health of our cattle by decreasing the prevalence of disease, thereby promoting efficiency and profitability.  end mark

PHOTO: Veterinarians are a necessary resource for creating protocols that comply with proAction’s biosecurity module. Photo by Mike Dixon.

Dr. Dennis Klugkist is a member of XLVets Canada.

Dennis Klugkist is a veterinarian at Gull Lake Veterinary Services in Lacombe, Alberta