Farm biosecurity isn’t about what happens when everyone is watching. It’s about what happens when no one is watching.
On March 16, Dr. John Carey, a professor of production and management at Texas A&M University’s Department of Poultry Science, spoke about how each poultry farm needs to craft its own biosecurity plan at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along with offering advice on building a plan, Carey cautioned that no biosecurity plan can work unless everyone in the organization respects it and follows it closely at all times.
With the recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Indiana – and last year’s devastating outbreak – fresh in the industry’s memory, Carey established five points for making a plan that helps maintain a high level of biosecurity.
1.The plan has to make sense
Every biosecurity plan has to be grounded in reality, Carey said, and every plan has to work for its individual farm. A “cookie cutter” approach will not work, and farm managers will need to understand the personnel and logistics needs of their individual sites.
Biosecurity needs to become part of the daily workflow for all levels of the operation. Burdening personnel with unrealistic expectations and adding undue logistical obstacles to day-to-day operations will only set a biosecurity plan up for failure. He said farm managers need to consider their employees’ time obligations and their operations’ financial limits. If those charged with monitoring biosecurity procedures have to rush through their work due to a lack of time or resources, the plan will fail.
2. It has to be workable for all parties
Along with understanding their operation’s needs, managers need to get all members of their operation involved in biosecurity planning. A successful plan, Carey said, cannot be written in an office by one person. It requires the input of a team representing all of the parties on the farm.
Communicating and making sure everyone – rather than just the health professionals – are involved will help the plan identify and secure potential areas of weakness. Rank and file farm workers, he said, offer a unique perspective that is valuable to the day-to-day operations and their voices should be heard in the process. Everyone in the operation should also be open to frequent reviews of biosecurity and be willing to discuss problems.
3. It has to deal with all circumstances
Managing biosecurity is easy on a warm and sunny day, Carey said, planning for extreme scenarios is harder. Unpredictable variables, like extreme weather, will put pressure on biosecurity because workers’ habits change under those conditions.
Planning for all contingencies, like who should have access to certain areas of the farm if the power goes out in a thunderstorm, can help protect the farm’s biosecurity from being compromised because of extreme circumstances.
4. Everyone has to understand their role in the program
Along with their input, farm managers need to ensure their employees understand how their actions impact the biosecurity of the farm, Carey said.
Farm managers should look to establish a culture of compliance to make sure the plan is being followed. Educating workers on the importance of their cooperation will work much better than threatening employees with termination for non-compliance. He said if employees are motivated with fear, they will spend their efforts trying not to get caught rather adhering to the biosecurity plan. A culture of compliance also makes it easier for employees to bring up what they consider to be biosecurity issues and share problems with management.
All levels of the operation need to be held accountable for biosecurity breaches, too. If VIPs in the company are allowed to traverse the farm freely, without following biosecurity measures, what message does that send to the rank-and-file, Carey asked.
5. Good records are important to dealing with an outbreak
Recent outbreaks have taught the industry that recordkeeping is key to managing the spread of disease. Keeping track of human and equipment traffic through barns, monitoring records for pest control and environmental sampling is essential, Carey said.
Over time, recordkeeping is almost certain to slip into neglect. Keep records for years, he said, isn’t necessary. Only the last two months to two weeks are essential to tracking the potential sources of an outbreak. Rather than keeping records for years, farmers should focus only on keeping a few months worth of data at a time.