Article Summary: Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest and most costly threats to animal and human health and the biosecurity of the agricultural industry today. While there are courses online to inform and educate about livestock diseases and many studies into antimicrobial resistance and how to protect your farm, it is a collective effort. Farmers need to work together to create a strong defence against these diseases and be on the ball to prevent widespread outbreaks that threaten to destroy livelihoods and the industry.

As a farmer, you must deal with hygiene and animal health daily. Adhering to good hygiene practices, placing a non-negotiable attitude to animal welfare and knowing the signs of illness or infection ensures your livestock are in optimum health and body condition bringing the highest quality and production possible.

Now, more than ever, farmers in Australia and New Zealand need to be vigilant about introduced diseases. Foot-and-mouth (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD) are devastating diseases prevalent in livestock worldwide, including neighbouring Indonesia. The chance of it crossing into Australia and NZ grows yearly, and the threat of antimicrobial resistance further complicates the danger to farms in the region.

There are courses online to inform and educate about livestock diseases and many studies into antimicrobial resistance and how to protect your farm. But it is a collective effort. Farmers need to work together to create a strong defence against these diseases and be on the ball to prevent widespread outbreaks with the potential to bring down whole herds and the industry (in the worst case).

According to Australian Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp, antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest and most costly threats to animal and human health and the biosecurity of the agricultural industry today. However, recent studies have shown that biosecurity has a positive impact on reducing the number of antimicrobials and a reduction of antimicrobial resistance selection pressure.

Antimicrobial resistance is when bacteria or other germs develop the ability to break down the drugs or chemicals designed to kill them. And often, these germs cause serious animal illnesses and can decimate populations and livelihoods, especially in farming. By applying good hygiene, excellent animal conditions and a safe environment, you’ll be keeping this issue at bay.

It is a complex, scientific phenomenon, but the measures you can take to protect your farm do not have to be. These steps also do not have to be expensive or difficult to implement.

The following is a framework of 15 practical steps you can take on your farm to protect your animals and livelihood against antimicrobials and their resistance.

Step 1 – Awareness of all the disease threats from outside your farm

The first and most important step is to know exactly what and who is coming in and out of your farm. Have plans in place to manage these entries, but first, you must identify all the possible threats to your farm’s biosecurity.

  1. Animals brought in from outside — these might include:

    1. animals bought from a market or show

    2. pets who have been taken outside for a walk 

    3. animals who have gone to market but returned 

    4. animals who have been to an agricultural show and returned

  2. Neighbouring animals

  3. Visitors to your farm

  4. Equipment used to transport and handle animals, such as trailers and utility vehicles.

  5. Animal products, including

    1. milk

    2. colostrum

    3. slurry

  6. Vermin and wildlife that reside on your property

  7. The environment on which your property lies, for instance, if your animals have access to:

    1. streams

    2. watering holes

    3. dams

    4. rivers

Step 2 – Following strict guidelines when buying animals

It pays to be smart when buying animals. Don’t go into the process willy-nilly, not knowing what you need, who to buy from and just deciding on the day. You must be accountable for all your purchases. Vouch for where the animals are from, their history and their condition at the sale time. It’s also a sound idea to have a number bought in that you can monitor and manage so that you can trace any biosecurity breaches and trace it back more easily.

  1. Plan ahead – Know the animals you need. Research the breed, find the right seller, and research the history of the animals you have highlighted. If you find the right animals before the sale, are they healthy and free of a colourful medical history? Is the vendor reputable? Do they come recommended and with glowing reviews?

  2. Buy in only the animals you need – Smaller, more workable numbers mean you’ll be able to track, trace and monitor them once they’re on your farm.

  3. Buy in from as few herds as you can

  4. Select herds that are lower risk

  5. Select animals that present minimal risk – Is there a lack of complex medical history and the presence of good body condition? If so, they will have a better chance of a healthy life.  

  6. Reduce your transport risk – If possible, use your own sanitised trailer to transport your new livestock. Avoid sharing transport with other companies and farms. If you cannot, then:

  7. Implement a strict quarantine period for 28 days – Before adding the animals to your herd, keep them safely and securely away from other animals and conduct regular testing to ensure they are free from any disease. Only introduce them after this time.

Step 3 – Thoroughly clean and sanitise all animal housing and equipment before and after use

This includes cleaning and disinfecting quarantine areas, animal transport, holding pens and milking sheds.

Step 4 – Introduce biosecurity measures for all visitors, including staff entering your farm

Ensure all visitors to your farm disinfect themselves before entering the farm. Provide them with PPE (protective clothing) and footwear.

Step 5 – Only allow clean vehicles onto your farm

Dirt and mess on cars can harbour disease and indicate a lower standard of health and hygiene. Ask that all vehicles are cleaned before they enter or provide a hose and cleaning supplies at the farm entrance before proceeding further. 

Step 6 – Build a relationship with your vet

Work with your veterinary practitioner so that they are involved in helping you look for ways to detect diseases and opportunities to protect your herd from outbreaks. They are also knowledgeable about achieving biosecurity on farms and will have valuable knowledge to assist you with your plan. It’s a good idea to meet and review your biosecurity efforts together annually.

Step 7 – Adopt an ‘all in, all out’ system

Considered an important disease management strategy, this ensures that one group stays together and does not mingle with other cohorts in your herd.

Step 8 – Work to reduce your stock density

A good way to minimise stress on your herd and lessen the spread of the disease is to gradually reduce numbers and provide more space per animal.

Step 9 – Implement a vaccination plan

Work with your vet to keep on top of vaccinations. This will ensure your animals are as protected from serious diseases as possible. 

Step 10 – Treat sick animals with urgency

Be vigilant and observe the signs and symptoms of sick animals and apply medical treatment to aid their recovery.

Step 11 – Isolate sick or injured animals from the herd quickly

Per the above, the longer clinically presenting animals are left in the herd, the greater the chance of widespread infection if it is due to a bacterial or viral infection.

Step 12 – Prevent vermin from entering feed or sleeping areas

Birds and vermin carry disease-causing pathogens and can infect your animals if they enter feed or bedding areas. Create deterrents, including fencing and wiring, to keep them out of these areas to limit the spread of e.coli and salmonella infections.

Step 13 – Keep feeding and water troughs clean and empty

Old feed and water that gets topped up will breed pathogens and illness-causing bacteria that will make your animals extremely unwell. Regularly emptying troughs and cleaning them before refilling will eradicate this risk.

Step 14 – Keep your water supply clean

Work to ensure your water supply avoids contamination. This will involve a degree of monitoring and maintenance as part of your plan.

Step 15 – Have a waste management plan

Dispose of or store slurry correctly and compost manure adequately to lower the risk of contaminant breeding and disease transmission.

Step 16 – Keep records

Track changes in the herd’s health over time, and use these to help you with your biosecurity system. It may help you detect subclinical infections if you know animals in your herd are susceptible to specific health issues.

While this framework and its sixteen steps require regular monitoring and upkeep, it’s a small price to pay for your farm's biosecurity and the fight against antimicrobial resistance. If you are on top of health and welfare and have good farm hygiene, you’ll know you’re doing your part to protect your livelihood and industry.

Until we meet again, Happy Farming!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-12-13