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Reducing Disease Risks in Your Cattle Herd

By Jessica Smith, P.Ag., Regional Livestock Specialist, Swift Current

Preventing and managing diseases within your cattle herd is important for herd health, production and profitability.  By taking proper biosecurity measures you can ensure you are reducing the risk of diseases occurring on your operation and reducing the impact of any diseases that may have entered your herd.  The Canadian Beef Cattle On-Farm Biosecurity Standard defines Biosecurity as “Those practices that prevent or mitigate disease from entering, spreading within, or being released from operations that may contain livestock”.  In simple terms biosecurity can be thought of as practices and procedures that reduce the risk and impact of disease on your operation.

Diseases can enter your herd in several different ways.  They may be introduced through other animals that come in to contact with your herd. This could be new animals you are bringing in to the herd, co-mingling at auction marts, livestock shows, community pastures, or any other form of contact.   You should be aware of the biosecurity risks involved with moving and co-mingling animals. It is helpful to know the history (vaccinations, treatments and illnesses) of any new animals you are bringing in to your herd.  This can help you make management decisions related to those animals.  It may be useful to isolate the new animals from the rest of the herd and monitor them for a period of time.  You will likely want to apply your own vaccination and herd health protocols to any new animals. Incoming animals may need to be treated or you may need to treat or vaccinate your own herd for disease risks that these new animals could be bringing with them.

Other vectors for diseases to enter in to your herd can include vehicles, equipment, tools, clothing, footwear, shared feeders and water sources, and people (employees and visitors).  There are actions you can take to help reduce these risks for disease.  This can include having sanitation protocols in place, such as wearing clean clothing and footwear between different herds, cleaning equipment and tools that have been used around sick animals, and preventing people that have been on a farm in another country from entering your operation for a period of time.  Other considerations could include using different equipment around sick animals and healthy animals where possible and properly managing deadstock and manure (both possible vectors for disease).

It is important for the safety of your herd to let anyone who is entering your operation know what your biosecurity protocols are and why you are following them.  It is always best to contact your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding diseases in your herd.  There is producer funding available through Growing Forward 2 for veterinarian farm visits to assess biosecurity risks and develop protocols.  For more information visit

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