Biosecurity means the protection of animals, plants, the environment and people’s health from harmful diseases and pests.
It includes preventing new pests and diseases from arriving on your property, managing those that might already be present and reducing the risk of spreading pests and diseases.
Why have a biosecurity plan?
Poor biosecurity can allow diseases to enter a property and spread, resulting in loss of money and reputation for the landholder, as well as potentially spreading to neighbours, clients or, at worst, the whole country.
Followed conscientiously, the plan will help to ensure that you maintain a high standard of animal health and that your animals and their products meet market requirements.
What is in a biosecurity plan?
A biosecurity plan will cover a wide range of activities and include plans to keep out and/or manage various diseases, which are endemic (already present in Australia), exotic (not present in Australia) or new diseases.
An effective plan is a clear, concise, written document that covers all the biosecurity risks for your property.
The plan should anticipate disease and pest risks and provide specific instructions on measures to minimise or eliminate potential problems.
The plan will include actions that must be taken:
- before animals come onto a property
- while the animals are on the property
- when the animals leave the property.
The plan should note how often you will observe animals for signs of ill-health. The frequency of observations may increase during anticipated higher risk periods, such as during lambing or calving or when animals are put onto a new ration.
The plan should be continuously consulted and reviewed.
Bringing animals onto the property
Inspect new livestock closely for normal appearance and behaviour.
Some diseases have clear visible signs such as pink eye (cattle and sheep), ringworm (cattle, sheep and humans), mange (dogs and sheep), scabby mouth (sheep or goats) or footrot (sheep and goats). Other diseases may make the animal look generally unhealthy.
Indications of ill-health include a dull coat, poor body condition, scouring, reluctance to stand or walk freely, runny eyes or lack of appetite.
Check that animals have the correct legal identification. All livestock owners within Western Australia must be registered and their stock identified in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013.
Registered owners will be issued with a property identification code (PIC) which outlines the properties they have registered to run stock on and the identifiers they may need to identify their stock, i.e. their stock brand, earmark and/or tattoo.
Whether they are kept as pets or for commercial purposes, all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer, bison and buffalo), equines (horses, ponies, mules and donkeys), South American camelids (alpaca, llama and vicuna) and pigs (including miniature pigs) are considered livestock under the BAM (IMSA) Regulations.
Correct identification is necessary in order to trace stock movements quickly when disease outbreaks or chemical residue problems occur. It is also necessary for investigations into suspected stock theft or straying livestock.
Health status documents
Ask for documentary evidence of the livestock’s history and health status (such as a national vendor declaration (NVD)/waybill, a National Sheep Health Statement (NSHS) or a PigPass-NVD).
You should be able to find out vaccination status, recent worm and lice treatments and any property history of diseases such as footrot, Johne’s disease or ovine brucellosis.
This way you can check that the new animals are at least as healthy as your own.
Isolate new arrivals
Isolate new animals and any animals returning from shows or agistment, from other animals already on the property, for seven days. Observe them for any signs of illness during this time.
This quarantine will allow time for any incubating disease to become evident, without being spread to other animals on your property.
Biosecurity on property
Observe your animals for illness or changes in behaviour. Early detection of diseased animals is very important so that you can act to minimise animal suffering, disease spread and financial loss.
In sick animals, behavioural changes, including reduced appetite, often occur before the animal’s appearance changes.
Isolate and treat any that are sick
Consult a veterinarian if you observe unusual signs. If animals die, once the cause is known, dispose of them correctly to prevent disease spread.
Well-maintained, stock-proof fences, especially around the boundary, will help to keep out new diseases carried by stray or wild animals.
Visitors, especially those who visit many farms, can bring infectious diseases onto your property on muddy boots or dirty overalls, equipment or vehicles. Ask all visitors to respect your biosecurity and arrive clean or clean their footwear once arriving on your property. Alternatively, confine visitors to one area and minimise their contact with your animals.
Overseas visitors could carry some infectious diseases on their clothes or shoes or in food they have brought with them. It is essential to ensure they have clean clothes and shoes if they are going near your animals. Do not allow them to bring food from overseas to feed your animals. This is how a disastrous disease like foot-and-mouth disease could enter Australia.
Buy animal feed from a reliable supplier. Pellets and rations made for pigs and poultry may be dangerous to horses and contain ingredients that are illegal for sheep, goats, cows and other ruminants. Only give stockfeed to the animals for which it is intended.
Wild animals can introduce disease to your animals.
New diseases are occurring around the world and many of these derive from wild animals such as bats and birds. It is good biosecurity planning to ensure your animals do not share food or water with wild animals.
Before animals leave the property
Identification and movement
When animals or their products leave your property, your plan will specify that they must be correctly identified and accompanied by whatever documentation is appropriate, such as a waybill, vendor declaration or PigPass.
More information about identification and movement can be found on the website of the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA).
If you are selling animals through a market or saleyard, or direct to an abattoir or export yard, ensure the animals are eligible for the market for which they are destined.
They will need to be free of infectious disease and chemical residues and accompanied by a National Vendor Declaration waybill.
Animals going off the property to attend a show, display or event will also need to be identified, healthy and free from any diseases and accompanied by a waybill. Most events have some biosecurity protocols you will need to follow.
Check requirements before the event to ensure you can comply.
Diseases to consider in a biosecurity plan
Endemic diseases do not necessarily affect large numbers of animals or occur frequently. Examples of endemic livestock diseases in Western Australia include mucosal disease, scabby mouth and erysipelas. Some of these can be controlled by treatment or vaccination programs.
Some of the better known exotic diseases include foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, rabies, bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis and swine fever.
To minimise the chance of an exotic disease occurring here, Australia has stringent requirements for the importation of animals, reproductive material (such as semen, embryos and eggs) and material of animal origin.
New and emerging diseases
In the past, diseases of livestock were classified as either endemic or exotic. Now there is a third category of disease: the new and emerging diseases. The infectious agents may already be present in Australia, but not previously known to cause any illness or deaths.
These may be organisms that exist without causing harm in the normal host – perhaps a native species – but when transmitted to another species, including farm animals, disease may occur. An example of such a disease is Hendra virus.
Investigate disease outbreaks
The Significant Disease Investigation (SDI) Program, through DAFWA and Animal Health Australia, provides subsidised veterinary investigations for any livestock disease with high stock losses or which has similar disease signs to an exotic or notifiable disease. Laboratory testing will often be free of charge.
Search on ‘SDI’ at agric.wa.gov.au for more information on this program. If you see unusual disease signs in your stock, call your vet, a veterinary officer at DAFWA or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888. More information can be found on the DAFWA or the Farm Biosecurity website.
The Farm Biosecurity website has a range of information and farm biosecurity manuals for livestock producers.
Biosecurity on your property is essential in helping stop the spread of weeds, pests and diseases. Many small producers are unaware of the importance of biosecurity and the need for a dedicated biosecurity plan.
When managing a property make sure you develop a plan to assess stock arriving on your property, managing those that might already be present and reduce the risk of spreading pests and diseases.