by: Clifford Mitchell

The king or keeper of the kingdom built huge castles with a moat to protect citizens in medieval times. Futuristic thinking put the Star Wars fleet of good guys in a remote corner of the galaxy to shield it from the evil empire. The modern day occupy movement hid behind high priced lawyers, loopholes to protect them from the laws of the land and gated communities were built to keep residents safe. All of these were good measures toward outside influences, but had little control over harm caused from within.

Protecting the herd from specific health threats is not that easy. Ranchers can't crawl inside a castle or take the herd to some remote island whenever there is a threat. Bio-security gives a new name to an old practice for most operations. Deciding what level of risk the herd is willing to deal with, will add structure to the plan.

“Some of our bio-security measures are worth more today than they were in the past. It might cost a little money to get some benchmark data, but look at what calves are bringing today,” says Dr. Joe Paschal, Extension Beef Specialist, Texas AgriLife Extension, Corpus Christi, Texas.

“The bio-security plan needs to be tailored for each operation's business model and what kind of risk they're willing to take,” says Dr. Christine Navarre, Extension Veterinarian, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Experienced operators know what level of risk the herd can withstand and still turn a profit. Most understand the practicality and impracticality of the bio-security plan. Bio-security is just another component for most cattlemen to add to the management scenario.

“Many things besides disease prevention and a vaccination program make up a bio-security program. Purchasing practices come into play. If you're continually buying animals from unknown sources or cull cows to upgrade and resell, it's not practical to test for BVD PI and Trich because there is a good chance you have it,” Navarre says. “One rancher I work with had a problem, but he co-grazed his cattle every winter. He couldn't afford to change the grazing practice so we had to change bio-security goals.”

State health regulations will help set the tone for bio-security. Making this a part of every day life will be up to the scrutiny of each individual operator. Some regulations extend the boundaries of good management.

“State lines and regulations will help dictate some of this policy to ranchers,” Paschal says. “When the cattle change hands, it is a critical control point. You need to know what has been done to this point and know what you're doing.”

“Unfortunately, some regulations do put undue pressure to test animals that may not need to be tested to get across state lines, but these regulations exist to help maintain bio-security,” Navarre says. “There are diseases we can quarantine for and they'll get over and there are diseases we have to test for.”

“Trich has come to the forefront lately, but I just don't see it as problem. I sell virgin bulls to repeat customers. If they had a problem they probably wouldn't be back. I may have to test bulls in the future that I know don't have a problem,” says Dave Schrock, Buckhorn Cattle Co., Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Testing is a touchy subject with most cattlemen. This type of monitoring herd health for bio-security is just a cost to some. For others, it's valuable information and a low cost guarantee.

“Ranchers, interested in bio-security, look for animals that have been tested or vaccinated to fit their herd. Testing for things like BVD PI, Trich and Johne's eliminates concerns for some producers and in the future this could create value,” Paschal says. “Seedstock producers have done a good job educating their customers. When we started advising producers to get a breeding soundness exam (BSE) on their herd bulls, it was a tough road. Most are more comfortable with testing and accepting it today.”

“When you make a purchase, match the health protocol to your bio-security plan and buy from reputable sources,” Navarre says. “Find out what your risks are and try to define a practical plan to eliminate risk.”

Changing buying practices, gathering information and being dedicated to the task will help set up initial guidelines to a bio-security plan. Beefing up the information system could be the only way to detect a problem within the herd. One small slip in conception or increased death loss could have a major impact on year end profit.

“I am old school and never really thought about it being a bio-security, but we buy from reputation herds or replace from within. I might have a different opinion if I had to buy cattle from a lot of sources, but that's something I won't do,” Schrock says. “We need to keep more records and document what we do to these cattle. The more we know the better we can manage our herd. When I buy cattle, I want to buy the best, that's how I make it work. The sale barn is for cripples or problems and I don't buy there.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of diseases sneak into the herd and cost you a lot of money. If calf health and pregnancy rates start to decline there is a problem. This could prove costly with today's input costs and calf prices,” Navarre says. “Good records will help define what problems you have, diseases or if it's another factor like poor nutrition. Do some testing for benchmark data and change your buying practices to reflect bio-security.”

“Benchmark data from a health and reproductive standpoint will help you decide whether you need to do some in-herd testing,” Paschal says. “Make sure the cattle that you are buying have been tested and are up to standard.”

Building better fences to keep the operation in isolation like the kingdoms of the past is probably not the answer to bio-security. Education and communication will go a long way to help bridge the gap between neighboring ranchers.

“Good fences can't always keep cattle out. Communicate with your neighbors, know what they are doing and know the risks,” Navarre says. “You need to get together and know your neighbor before there is a problem.”

“Bio-security is a bigger issue for smaller ranchers than larger operations. Risks can come in more forms than just disease. We have natural risks like wildlife we'll never be able to contain,” Paschal says. “Educate the landowners next door, don't just build a tall fence. Tell them what you're doing and know what they're doing. A lot of guys do a good job and some just don't know they aren't supposed to have sick calves and poor conception rates. A neighboring ranch can lose a calf crop to a wandering bull because the owners never talked. If they got to know each other, the problem could probably have been avoided.”

“Because of our management style, I am not as concerned with how some of these bio-security issues like Trich and BVD PI are affecting my bottom line,” Schrock says. “We have a feral hog problem and they cost a lot of money because they destroy property. What kind of health problems could they cause in the future? We're hunting and trapping them right now and not making a dent.”

The benefits of bio-security aren't readily seen by most operations. Value could be created adding extra guarantees or confidence with prospective buyers. Peace of mind for most outfits seems to be the biggest benefit. Knowing there is not a problem, having records support this and not introducing future problems could be ways for operations to justify implementing the “protector of the kingdom” status.

“There is probably no better value to an operation than BSE testing the herd bull battery before turnout. Only half the producers routinely do this,” Paschal says. “Testing for things like BVD PI and Trich is hard to gauge because only a small percentage of the bulls are affected. If you ever get it or have seen what it can do, testing for Trich is truly like buying that life insurance policy, you don't mind paying for it, but you hope you never have to use it. It's hard to define the value of bio-security for each specific ranch, but it's good for the industry.”

“A BSE is a no-brainer when it comes to testing potential herd bulls or the herd bull battery because we can't afford to turn out sub-fertile bulls. Unfortunately, from a disease standpoint, we don't have a good economic data for all diseases to know whether bio-security and testing individuals is always worth it,” Navarre says. “Lowering health risk is difficult to put numbers on. Bio-security may not necessarily make you a lot of money, but could prevent you from losing a lot.”

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