12 poultry farm biosecurity principles you should know

After witnessing the disruption caused by 2015’s avian influenza outbreak, every farmer should ask if their biosecurity plan is strong enough.

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After witnessing the disruption caused by 2015’s avian influenza outbreak, every farmer should ask if their biosecurity plan is strong enough. The most important part of any biosecurity plan is having the right attitude, according to Dr. Gregory Martin, educator and extension specialist at Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension. Having all the correct precautions in place doesn't do any good if workers and managers don’t follow the rules.

Martin, who spoke at a forum on disease response at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, laid out a basic strategy for farmers to draft their own biosecurity plan and fortify their premises.

Dr Gregory Martin, A Poultry Educator At Pennsylvania State University’s Cooperative Extension In Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Dr. Gregory Martin, a poultry educator at Pennsylvania State University’s Cooperative Extension in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, speaks at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. | Austin Alonzo

Martin said operations should focus on establishing three disease barriers on their farm: a physical barrier, keeping disease and its vectors from making contact with the animals; a chemical barrier, killing the disease whenever possible by way of sanitation; and a logical barrier, ensuring farmers establish the correct management processes to minimize disease risk.

A basic biosecurity plan

Due to the avian influenza outbreak of 2015, the USDA has enacted an interim rule that farmers must have a written biosecurity plan on site in order to ensure indemnity payments will go smoothly between the flock owner and the grower.

He advised farmers from all different sizes of operations to fill out a plan, sign it, date it, and keep it on file in the event of another outbreak. Having the documentation on a farm can prove a plan was in effect even if the farm is located inside a disease control zone and is worth the time considering the possible financial implications of an outbreak.

Martin went over the 12 points of the biosecurity planning document:

  1. A biosecurity coordinator on the farm identified and recorded: An employee on the farm must be declared the biosecurity plan coordinator.
  2. Organized training with records of training done: Logged information showing the coordinator educated employees on biosecurity at some point.
  3. Lines of separation on buildings with required sanitation: A physical or figurative line separating the “clean” production area from “dirty” exterior areas. This line means workers and materials are sanitized before crossing the line or that workers establish a barrier, like personal protective equipment (PPE) or washing shoes, before entering a biosecure area.
  4. Perimeter buffer areas defined: Defining which areas of the farm are “hot” and “cold” in terms of distance between poultry buildings in order to reduce disease transmission by people or vehicles.
  5. PPE on premise for employees working on the farm: Workers must have access to PPE to protect from bringing a disease into the production area on their clothes or shoes.
  6. Vector control for multiple species of pests: Having plans in place to stop insects, rodents, wild birds and even pets from entering the house.
  7. Equipment control in buildings and between buildings: Making sure that, if equipment is being shared between production areas and farms, it is being properly sanitized in between uses.
  8. A mortality management plan: How dead animals are handled in normal and catastrophic situations. Martin said this includes regular trips to rendering facilities and ensuring there isn’t a breakdown in biosecurity there.
  9. Manure and old materials management: How old litter and manure are being managed to ensure diseases are not spread. This also applies to garbage and other farm waste.
  10. Replacement / new stocking: How new birds are brought in. Is there a disinfection step in between the breeder farm and the production area?
  11. Water management: Periodically testing water to make sure it is free of contaminants. Surface water sources must be monitored closely.
  12. Feed and new materials management: Ensuring new litter and feed are delivered in a way that minimizes the risk of disease transmission.

Considerations for drafting the plan

When farmers are drawing up a biosecurity plan, they need to think of their operation from the top down and perhaps use an aerial photo of their property to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Where are the lines of separation: Where are the areas where disinfection is going to occur? If a farm has more than one operation, livestock, crops, etc. on a single site, special attention must be paid to these areas.
  • Where are entry and exit points: How are people getting on and off your farm, and how can that be controlled to create a “one-way” route through the farm – ensuring personnel and equipment always arrives as clean as possible?
  • What special steps are you taking to reduce your risk: Martin said farmers need to think about regular visitors, like family, business contacts and delivery drivers, as potential disease vectors. Only necessary personnel should be allowed on the farm, he said, and business meetings should take place off-site. He suggested building a special drop box for mail and package delivery to ensure a delivery vehicle isn’t unwittingly bringing contaminants onto a farm. Martin said farmers in Indiana negotiated with the local electric utility to make sure meter readers weren’t bringing contaminants from farm to farm during the state’s avian influenza outbreak.
  • Where are the buffer zones: What’s the distance between “hot” and “cold” zones and how much distance is between them? Martin said the plume trail from the houses should be considered in this part of the plan.
  • Are cars getting washed before they come: Martin said farmers should make friends with the local car wash to ensure visitors are getting their cars washed in between farm visits. For farm vehicles, he said rubber floor mats should be used because they are easier to clean. He also suggested people regularly traveling between farms keep disinfectant in their vehicles. Farmers should also consider the cleanliness of their regular visitors like feed, pullet and harvest trucks.
  • Are your decontamination areas effective enough: Do disinfection areas really work? Martin said dry chemical footbaths are popular at many farms but they miss critical areas of the shoe, namely, everywhere but the surface that touches the ground. In an outbreak situation, wet footbaths, which cover the whole shoe in disinfectant, must be used.
  • How are you keeping rodents and other vermin out of the house: Are there routes for rodents and other vermin to access the production area? Martin said the grass, if there is any near the house, should be kept short to discourage rodents or totally removed. He said rocks are effective because they discourage pests and are sanitized naturally by ultraviolet light from the sun. 

General sanitation principles 

Along with having a biosecurity plan in place, Martin said farmers should consider the following:

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