Biosecurity: stopping disease in Wales

Posted on April 14, 2016 by Neil Paton

Washing wellies on farmWhilst stopping for fuel at a local garage on the way home from work, I pulled in behind a sheep scanning trailer whose owner was also looking for fuel to get home. What I noticed about this individual was his wellington boots and overtrousers which were covered in mud and hadn’t been cleaned at least since his last visit.

As he walked across the garage forecourt, I wondered about how much disease he had potentially spread throughout his clients.

Welsh farmers’ knowledge of biosecurity

Was this lack of cleanliness a lack of understanding, a lack of care or a disbelief in the importance of biosecurity? I believe veterinary surgeons would find it unthinkable to leave a farm wearing even clean boots and regard it as almost a sin not to clean their kit to a high standard. So what's the issue?

Last summer the Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework distributed questionnaires amongst farmers to to help assess their level of understanding of biosecurity.

There were all manner of responses when farmers were asked how important biosecurity was to them in their farming practices, and it's worth noting that these are the farms that felt biosecurity was important enough to respond!

Section 2 of the questionnaire asks about current knowledge and understanding of biosecurity. It is very apparent through the results that farmers are not comfortable applying effective biosecurity measures as they do not have the adequate knowledge required.

How significant is a lack of biosecurity?

Two sheepIf you have ever been to a talk by Professor Christianne Glossop on tuberculosis (TB) control, you may have heard the story about a zookeeper walking from one group of animals, the seals, to another, the gorillas, which spread the infection of TB. A powerful anecdote that suggests our sheep scanner may be responsible for more than determining the number of lambs in a uterus.

Arguably a statement of intent about the farmers’ determination to protect from disease and not to spread to other farms is just as important as the cleanliness of personal clothing and equipment.

But it’s not just farmers that need to think about biosecurity – contractors also have a role to play in this. It only appears to be cattle and sheep farms that have this issue, can anyone imagine going off or onto a pig or poultry unit with dirty equipment?

The veterinarian's role on farm

Vet walking through farmAs the role of the farm vet changes more towards consultancy, we surely have an important part to play in working with farmers to ensure that disease is controlled as effectively as possible. Our example and knowledge should allow us to successfully communicate the requirement for adequate biosecurity.

With farm incomes becoming tighter, the burden of disease is likely to become as unacceptable in the cattle and sheep industries as it is in the pig and poultry industries. Disease eradication schemes such as those for  Bovine Virus Diarrhoea (BVD), bovine TB and Johne's disease will require a strong biosecurity element if we are to effectively control and eradicate them.

Vets, with their knowledge and experience, have to be at the centre of this effort in order to succeed, and we need to ensure our clients fully understand the importance and practices of biosecurity.


Vets also play an important role in helping to prevent the spread of infectious diseases at livestock shows. Download our animal welfare plan for livestock shows to ensure good animal health and biosecurity measures are in place.  

Manifesto for Wales 2016-2021

Find out what we're urging politicians and policy makers to do about safeguarding animal health in Our manifesto for Wales 2016-2021 (750 KB PDF). We have also written a Northern Ireland manifesto (628 KB PDF) and Scotland manifesto (754 KB PDF) for the upcoming 2016 national elections. 

Neil Paton

Written by Neil Paton

BVA Welsh Branch Past President

Lecturer in Farm Animal Health and Production – Royal Veterinary College

Technical Director of Animal Health and Welfare Wales – Gwaredu BVD