Biosecurity and livestock disease

South Africa’s livestock farmers face disease threats at levels never encountered before as changing temperatures and high rainfall create conditions that support the growth and migration of disease-vectoring insects. Recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks show that ignoring biosecurity rules and moving animals illegally are making matters worse.

Biosecurity is an essential element of disease control. Disease surveillance enabling early detection followed by correct diagnoses and treatment are the key steps to maintaining herd and flock health. Animal health has far-reaching consequences for the livestock sector’s economic health, which can quickly decline when dreaded diseases break out.

The implementation and policing of proper containment measures form part of animal health maintenance and of keeping the red meat sector economically viable. Veterinary laboratories with the capacity to make accurate disease diagnoses are a vital link in the biosecurity chain, as there can be no effective treatment without reliable clinical information. 

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an especially tricky disease to contain, says Afrivet’s Dr Caryn Shacklock. “It is a highly infectious viral disease that may not show symptoms, and infected animals do not need to come into contact with other animals for the virus to spread,” she explains. In the face of an FMD outbreak, everyone who visits or works on a farm needs to be aware of biosecurity.

Changing clothes when moving between farms, hosing down vehicles with appropriate viricides and confining animals to quarantined areas are some basic biosecurity steps. “This is a disease that can fly below the radar and that has a major economic impact on the country, as it affects our ability to export,” Dr Shacklock says. 

Vaccination is another tool in the biosecurity toolbox – there are vaccines available to protect animals from bacterial, viral and protozoal diseases that affect animal production. Outbreaks of the dreaded disease brucellosis are becoming more widespread, even though farmers are legally obliged to vaccinate heifers when they are between four and eight months old. 

The sector would benefit significantly if biosecurity was prioritised and controls effectively implemented. 

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