Tuesday August 13, 2013 | 06:20 AM

In my car there reside a pair of red rubber boots for farm visits, and in my barn at home a black pair and thick green winter pair. It’s not that I’m starting a boot collection, but rather taking measures to minimize the number of pathogens I bring into an environment where there are livestock. Simply said, I am practicing bio-security to protect my backyard flock of chickens and chances are the much larger herd of animals whoever I’m going to meet maintains.

It takes exactly one of my chickens being introduced to a disease to wipe out the flock. Having already gone through two vet visits, which entailed both writing large checks and commandeering all 11 birds into my car for a 30-minute drive (each way), then submitting the flock to daily doses of antibiotics for ten days (if you ever need help putting drops down your chickens throats call me, I’m a pro), and finally throwing away eggs for a month…well thank you, but no thank you I’d rather not have one of my gals be the recipient of a deadly disease. Granted, my flock was infected by one of their own members who has a rather peculiar fondness for wild turkey droppings (enough said, trust me). They are all fine, but that’s because I figured out one was sick early on and immediately began treatment.

Road trip to the vet's office.

For convenience sake I have the boots at my place and the separate pair in the car, which I disinfect between visits to farms with livestock. Additionally, I rarely visit more than one farm with livestock in a day. When people visit my home (as they did for the recent 5th Annual Backyard Locavore Day), I ask them to not touch my chickens and not go in the coops.

In conversations with Dr. Richard Brzozowski of University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, extension veterinarian and Director of the University of Maine Animal Health Laboratory, it became apparent that more needs to be done to educate people about the importance of practicing bio-security on homesteads. Large commercial farms likely already have bio-security measures in place, but what about folks with a flock of less than two dozen birds or a few goats? Following is information Dr. Lichtenwalner was kind enough to put together for The Root’s readers.

1. The most important, basic preventative measure someone who owns livestock (cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens…) can take is sanitation.

This includes:

  • Cleaning up manure and disposing of it effectively.
  • Keeping food and water containers clean with fresh feed and water.
  • Never “swapping” unsanitized tools/feeding equip, etc, between animal groups, or between farms.
  • Hand/boot cleaning prior to entering/leaving animal areas.  Note, the wash/dip site must be refreshed frequently or the system does not work.
  • Keeping separate groups of animals truly separate.
  • Quarantining animals till you know they are healthy (new animals to your farm, sick animals on your farm, travelling animals returning to your farm).
  • Good ventilation.

2.   Always practice bio-security when visiting a farm or homestead, any place with livestock (chickens, goats, pigs). An innocent visit to the chicken coop, when you have feather dust from your (unknown to you) Marek’s disease-infected chickens on your clothing, could bring disease to their farm. Farms (even if very “open” to visitors) should request that visitors:

  • Not have visited another farm for at least a day.
  • Have showered and changed since handling animals at another farm.
  • Use footbath/bootwash and hand sanitizer before going into animal areas or handling animals.

Dr. Lichtenwalner did not know of any laws that require private farms to practice mandatory biosecurity measures in the handling of animals. “I think for the farmer, it’s important to decide for themselves what level of risk they want to accept,” Dr. Lichtenwalner said. “For some, worrying about bio-security is stressful, and they would rather rely on good nutrition and general immunity in their animals, and keep an “open” farm. I can understand this, but if disease crops up in their farm, and then people bring it home to their animals, it’s a problem for others.”

She said people can either buy diseases with their animals, or bring the disease home in some other way (e.g. on their shoes). Dr. Lichtenwalner stresses education and consideration for others.

Following are sites Dr. Lichtenwalner recommends to learn more about bio-security: A Canadian site that has some good farm-level information. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations site has some good fundamental country-level information

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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