LDP Blog: Breaking Down Biosecurity

posted on Wednesday, September 7, 2016 in AMVC Employee Blog

Breaking down Biosecurity

What do yellow caution signs, red stop signs, various diagrams and photos of livestock and hazmat suits have in common? They are examples of the images that will appear if you google the word biosecurity, which depicts the fight against the ever looming enemies we cannot see.

Before entering the fascinating world of swine production I felt I had a good grasp on the word biosecurity, particularly in its context towards livestock and animal production. With events such as the outbreak of H1N1, the introduction of PEDv into the United States and the avian flu throughout my college career, biosecurity had become a widely spread topic. Growing up my work was more focused on the cattle, horse and sheep industries, and everything I knew about the hog and poultry world came from lectures, notes and studies. Looking back I realized I had no hands-on experience with either of the two species who are arguably most protected by biosecurity measures. I had believed that I had grasped the concept and importance of biosecurity, but I was wrong.

An Introduction to Biosecurity

You can imagine my surprise when, as a part of my interview process at AMVC, I was contacted about making arrangements for a barn visit and the words “shower” and “barn clothes” came into the conversation. Sure, I understood needing to meet at the shop, where I would be given a pair of shoe booties to wear from my vehicle to the barn- been there, done that.  While I “knew” swine were incredibly susceptible to disease I admittedly at first I did not completely understand all of these measures. As I was trying to picture what this experience, and potentially career, would look like, I instantly was questioning if I wanted to accept a job that would require showering in and out every day. (If you are a girl, with long hair in particular, you can probably better sympathize with my hesitancy corresponding to this one fact.) Thankfully, despite my reservations, I persevered. I was still in the interview process and felt I had already learned so much on my new adventure, besides nothing was decided and at the end of the day no decisions had to be made past my choice to visit the barn and meet with the manager.

At the Barn

It was November, it was cold, my hair was still wet from the shower, and I was in a pair of coveralls (barn clothes). So far the interview had been going well and I had enjoyed speaking to the manager, but I was beginning to wonder what I was doing there. This was not for me. However no matter how many times I had snuck my complete lack of experience into the conversation, he was wholly positive and brushed it off. Then the fun really started. We left the office and began our barn tour. Our first stop was at one of multiple boot washes we would stop at during our trip around the barn. As a side note- I am not a naturally graceful person, and with coveralls a size too big, I struggled at first getting my boots clean and not spraying the person beside me or myself. (The struggle would continue for a few weeks after I started, some battles won and some lost.) As we continued the tour I am sorry to say I had continued thinking “nope, I do not think this is for me.” Then we began talking about current events in the swine industry, the animals themselves, particular illnesses the barn had successfully recovered from and fought off, and the future of the industry in general. As we were having this discussion the afternoon went from an interview to a real world lesson about the impossibilities that these barns face in warding off disease and keeping these animals healthy. Something as simple as the wind blowing can carry a disease pigs are susceptible to. Most of the diseases are carried by birds and rodents, who are naturally attracted to the barns. For those of you familiar with PEDv, you may have heard reports of scientists saying that a thimble of the virus is enough to wipe out the entire U.S. swine herd if not combated. PEDv is not the only disease hog barns fight, only one of the most recent to make headlines. Various strains of the flu, Porcine Reproductive Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and Porcine Parvovirus (PPV) are just a few of the other illnesses and viruses barns are up against.

Biosecurity in Summary

How do you fight something you cannot see? You do everything you can to keep as much of the outside elements, outside. We take the precautions to shower in, disinfect or fog everything brought into the barn and have the clothes that were bought from the store to the barn to the washer to be worn. We wash our boots between farrowing and gestation (and a few places in between). We do all of these measures, as well as, the protocols suggested by our veterinarian.

From the outside these can seem like small and sometimes unnecessary steps. If you are not familiar with the industry, the animals or the barns, the requirements to enter a barn may seem bizarre and squirrely. You may wonder who they are trying to keep out or what secrets they are hiding. You would be asking the wrong questions. It is not who they want to keep out, it is what- the viruses and germs that threaten the health and welfare of their animals.

By the end of the barn tour I had a whole new outlook on the swine industry and a new definition of the word biosecurity. Biosecurity was work, work that sometimes feels unnecessary and thankless because you cannot see the results. The truth though is that it is one of the most important jobs on a farm and everyone participates. As for me? After seeing the devotion and pride the manager and workers displayed, and of course ample time in the farrowing room visiting the piglets, I had made up my mind to join the team before I hit the end of the farm driveway. When you enjoy your job, showering in and out every day does not seem like such a high price to pay. 

Written by Brittany Shears, AMVC LDP Employee