Biosecurity: Protecting Your Livestock

— Written By Emily Cope
en Español / em Português

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With the recent outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in North Carolina it is prudent to take a look at our livestock operations’ biosecurity practices. Animal agriculture in North Carolina is an economically significant industry; therefore, biosecurity is important both for animal welfare and food supply. Healthy livestock are more efficient and have increased productivity, so minimizing their exposure to disease is in your best interests, as well as theirs. 

Biosecurity simply means management practices to protect the health of livestock from the transmission of infectious disease and disease-causing organisms, like parasites and pests. A goal with biosecurity is to prevent the introduction into or spread of diseases among herds or flocks. When designing a biosecurity management plan it is important to remember biosecurity is a gradient. An operation isn’t simply bio-secure or not bio-secure, but rather more secure or less secure. 

Developing a biosecurity plan is much like teaching my toddler-aged boys to cover their mouths when they cough or washing hands before meals. Implementing healthy habits like this will hopefully, at minimum, reduce our risks of germ exposure and transmission. Obviously, sheep are not washing their hooves before meals, but there are some management practices we can incorporate into our operations to help mitigate the risks of disease introduction and spread. Below are few things to keep in mind when developing your biosecurity plans: 

Traffic Control 

  • Control access and entry into your farm
  • Limit unnecessary traffic onto the farm
  • Vehicles, trailers, equipment, and people can be vectors, or carriers of disease 
  • Contaminated clothing and footwear can introduce diseases onto your farm
  • Ensure clean clothes and footwear are worn by visitors
  • Remember, if it moves, it can carry disease


  • New animals are the number one way diseases are introduced onto farms. Quarantine new animals from your existing herds/flocks. At minimum, 30 days is the best recommended period for quarantine. If possible, also providing distance (more than an open fenceline) is advisable. 
  • Watch new animals closely. Vaccinate and treat internal and external parasites where necessary. 
  • Isolating sick animals from healthy animals will help control and reduce the spread of disease within your herd/flock. Know when to contact your veterinarian. 
  • Have separate equipment for new and existing animals – do not share shovels, hoof trimmers, feed buckets, etc. while in quarantine. 

Sanitation and Husbandry 

  • Keep feed and water sources free from pests. Birds, insects, and rodents are sources and vectors of disease 
  • Inspect feed for rodent droppings before feeding
  • Good nutrition is a core element to your animals’ health
  • Poor husbandry practices contribute to disease transmission within and between animals. Regular care and cleaning is vital for good management and biosecurity. 
  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting equipment will aid in disease control 
  • Timely removal of manure, as well as dead livestock, will help support good biosecurity practices. 

When designing your plan

  • Evaluate the risk of disease 
  • Look at your farm from the outside
  • Priority areas
    • Livestock movement 
    • Health and management 
    • Vectors – people, vehicles, and equipment 
    • Waste management 
    • Monitoring and Surveillance  

Think of your biosecurity plan much like an insurance policy, you don’t need it until you need it. Having a plan will help lead to increased productivity, reduced risks, earlier disease detection, and reduced economic losses caused by production losses. 

For more information on biosecurity in livestock, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.