Biosecurity is not to be ignored in preventing calf disease

Improved calf health and reduced risk of disease spread are two factors calf rearers would often pay money for. So why, when they can get all that from a simple on farm biosecurity kit, do producers still switch off at the word’s very mention?

Even following the devastating effects of foot-and-mouth, producers still don’t pay enough attention to preventing disease entering the farm, believe Somerset calf rearers Rob and Clare Martin.

“We’ve even been guilty of it ourselves. If someone said we needed to close our farm gates until the visitor had thoroughly foamed their wheels and dipped their boots, we would have laughed.”

But that’s exactly what the couple now do on their Langport-based unit. And although health status has not been directly measured, Mr Martin says there has been a noticeable improvement to calf health on the unit since installing the cleansing kit at the entrance.

“It works by dispersing a chemical – Incidin PA – either as dense foam or as a jet wash. Since installation we have seen improvements in liveweight gain, reduced lameness, pneumonia and ringworm, as well as a reduction in drug use,” he explains.

Wheels on all vehicles entering the rearing unit are thoroughly washed, with drivers dipping boots on arrival as well. “At first we thought it would be hassle, but it’s such a simple operation that takes no time at all.

It’s a vital insurance policy in helping prevent any form of disease entering the farm,” adds Mrs Martin.

“I also dip all farm equipment, particularly when I’m cleaning out with the tractor or moving about on the quad, as it helps prevent disease spread between each shed,” says Mr Martin.

The Martins, who rear 480 calves at any one time, had the kit installed by Blade South West as part of their calf rearing contract. “Blade takes care of the set up, cost and added cost of replacing the chemical, so we don’t have to worry about any of it.”

Blade calf rearing co-ordinator Alex Robinson says all Blade rearers now have the cleansing kit installed on farm.

“With calves coming in from various farms, markets and collection centres, it’s vital we do all we can to prevent disease entering rearing units, we’re simply following the approach taken by the pig and poultry sectors.”

On arrival at a rearing unit, newly purchased calves also walk through the foam which is proving to reduce lameness issues with calves, she adds. “And as potential transmitters of disease we all carry cleansing kits in our cars, so we can thoroughly dip on arrival at any farm.”

At the end of each of the four calf buildings, a smaller kit is also installed for dipping boots and washing hands with an alcohol-based product.

And this has proved to be a major preventative tool, adds Mr Martin. “When there is an outbreak of either pneumonia or ringworm in one shed, the dipping and cleansing helps contain it, preventing spread by myself or Clare to another shed.”

Although the initial £500 set up charge and continued supply of chemical falls to Blade, Mr Martin says the cost is a reasonably priced insurance policy. “Many farmers who have visited our unit are impressed when they see the kit in action, particularly when I explain what an outbreak of pneumonia would cost us.”

  • Simple on farm kit
  • Foam or jet wash
  • Alcohol-based hand wash
  • Reduce pneumona and lameness