The outbreak of foot-and-mouth may appear to be contained, but that is no excuse for relaxing levels of vigilance or strict biosecurity measures across the UK, according to vets.
F&M differs from other contagious livestock diseases as it is highly contagious through a third party, Salisbury-based vet Keith Cutler explains. “No unnecessary visits should be made to farms or areas which carry a risk.
“It is essential adequate cleansing is in place across the farm, not just at the farm gate. And it’s no good disinfecting dirty vehicles or boots, things have to be clean for disinfection to be effective.
“Disinfection points and straw mats are the icing on the cake,” he adds. Mr Cutler’s vets have implemented strict protocols,
Meanwhile, as a vet working with farmers close to the original outbreak and to the fourth suspect case, Kent-based vet Paul Horwood of Eastpoint Vets says he is more than impressed with biosecurity levels on farms in the south-east.
“Barriers, such as straw mats, are making people stop and think before going on farm and farmers are doing their utmost to maintain disinfectant levels, which is even more vital now we have had some rain in the south-east.”
Further north, with some farmers believing F&M could be contained in the south-east, there is the inevitable tendency for farmers to relax their guard in terms of F&M, according to Ripon-based vet Jonathan Statham. However, he is particularly pleased with the protocols in place on his clients’ farms.
“Perimeter barriers are in place with either straw or foam matting down for vehicles to drive over. Some farmers are implementing the phone-and-wait approach before coming to oversee disinfection practices.”
However, Mr Statham does raise concerns in terms of the need to prevent animal welfare issues, particularly with many dairy heifers due to calve. “While restrictions are still in place, I would hate farmers to move cattle on the quiet to prevent animal welfare issues, while risking a biosecurity breakdown.”
In the south-west, Tiverton, Devon-based vet Dick Sibley says farmers in his area are largely failing to take the outbreak seriously as it appears to be under control.
Looking at the practical issues, Mr Sibley says farmers should question visitors over their previous movements and contact with livestock. “Anyone who has had contact with animals should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected, as should their vehicles and any equipment they bring with them.”
Those posing the largest risk are vets, AI technicians, foot trimmers and milk tankers, he suggests. “All these people travel between farms and handle livestock, so pose a huge risk in terms of disease transfer. But straw mats are of little use and only really serve to highlight to visitors that they shouldn’t enter farms unless they absolutely have to and that they have undertaken all appropriate cleansing and disinfection.”