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Johnson: Make your farm a biosecurity fortress

From the person doing the power washing to the owner of the farm business, everyone involved in a pork-production system plays a vital role in keeping the operation safe and secure, Clayton Johnson, DVM, with Carthage Veterinary Services in Carthage, Illinois, told Pig Health Today. When he thinks about biosecurity, Johnson  compares a farm to a fortress. A fortress has limited points of entry, which help control who or what goes in and out, so it’s a good analogy to use for pork operations.

Limiting the points of entry is the first critical step in making sure an operation is practicing good biosecurity.

Next is putting barriers in place to keep “the bad guys” out, which in the case of hog farms includes a number of pathogens. If bacteria, viruses or parasites are able to overcome a farm’s barriers, the ability to manage them is compromised, particularly for viruses like African swine fever or new strains of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

“We’re scared to death of those things because once they get inside our walls we don’t really have a good ability to contain them, so we have to keep them out,” Johnson said.

“We can’t build 45-foot stone walls around our farms like we can a fortress. But we can limit the entry areas and define specific plans for how we’re going to deploy our resources, just like when a fortress deploys soldiers,” he added. “We’d put them at certain areas where they can shoot down the enemy. That’s generally the same thing we’re doing with biosecurity. We’re deploying our disinfection capabilities…and we’re putting those at the limited points of entry with specific assignments for how to use them, based on the risk factor that’s coming onto the farm.”

Redundancy is not a bad thing

Johnson said it’s important that biosecurity programs are redundant, meaning practices need to overlap to ensure coverage.

“We have a belt-and-suspenders approach. Chemical disinfectants for most pathogens of concern will be very effective as long as that item is clean and disinfected completely, including the right contact time and the right dilution.”

This human-led process is usually someone’s job, but people make mistakes.

“That’s where the belt-and-suspenders approach comes in,” he explained. “You have a backup plan, and each of the plans should work independently.”

Time, temperature, pH and ultraviolet light

Downtime is key, Johnson noted, whether that’s downtime for people coming into a farm or downtime for high-risk feed ingredients. Along with downtime, temperature is important to assist in drying trucks and trailers.

“Producers can also manipulate pH. Viruses are typically susceptible to really low or high pH,” he said. “We can come up with pathogen-specific programs to alter the pH in an environment and improve our ability to disinfect.”

Ultraviolet (UV) light plays a biosecurity role as well, but Johnson cautioned that UV chambers have limitations. Distance from the UV light source and temperature within the UV chamber can have a big impact on the disinfectant efficacy of UV light.

“Consistency is the most important tip that I would give producers,” Johnson said. “Each of those risk factors is going to have its own plan, and the investment level needs to be consistent.”

Biosecurity is a series of plans

Biosecurity isn’t a one-size-fits-all program, Johnson explained. For example, people, supplies and transport assets will enter a production facility in different ways.

“Each risk factor is unique,” he said. “Think about the good-guy/bad-guy comparison with the fortress. If we’re going to have a naval attack we have to be prepared to defend against that differently than a land attack or an air attack. It’s the same approach with pathogens. We have to set up our defenses to be appropriate for where we think the attack is going to be and leverage resources that have the best defense capabilities.”

Culture of accountability

Every time Johnson does a biosecurity audit or investigation, he can pin the bad things that happen down to “they.”

“I’ve never found who ‘they’ are, but ‘they’ break every biosecurity rule in the world,” Johnson said. “The people I talk to don’t break any of them.

“On the farm it’s our problem,” he continued. “Nobody is going to come to the farm when we break with a new PRRS virus and help drag out the dead sows. If the rendering-truck driver is doing something wrong or the cull-sow truck driver is doing something wrong, we have to create that culture of accountability, because nobody is coming to help the farm manage through the mortality, abortions and other challenges that happen with a disease outbreak.”

Long-term process

Biosecurity too  often feels like a discussion of gloom and doom, but Johnson concluded with hope and optimism.

“We have all the tools and technologies we need to prevent disease transmission, not only into our country but from farm to farm,” he said. “We absolutely can prevent disease, and where there is disease, we absolutely know how to eliminate it.”

He didn’t want to give a false sense of security that the process is easy, but it can be done, and producers have the capabilities to succeed in their biosecurity efforts.

“This is a long-term process, and it’s a never-ending battle…because the enemy will continue to come at us from different fronts. But in time, our investments in biosecurity should yield good returns,” Johnson said. “The fight is worth fighting, and you can be successful.”


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From the person doing the power washing to the owner of the farm business, everyone involved in a pork-production system plays a vital role in keeping the operation safe and secure.

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Posted on December 21, 2021

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