Over the years, best management practices have been developed to improve farm biosecurity and, in certain instances, specific practices are needed to control the spread of a known disease.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

At the 2020 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, three dairy producers from across western Canada shared what they do for biosecurity and why.

Houweling Farms uses biosecurity to mitigate risks

Jesse Houweling farms with his dad and brother at Houweling Farms in Coaldale, Alberta. They start preventing the potential spread of disease right at birth.

The Houwelings built a new facility in 2015, which included small calving pens. They always try to separate the cow and calf right after calving to prevent disease transfer and sucking from the mother.

The newborn calf is vaccinated with Calf-Guard and Inforce 3 to prevent scours and respiratory disease.


Colostrum is tested and fed to the calf shortly after birth. Excess quality colostrum is frozen in Ziploc bags labeled with the test score.

Milk for unweaned calves is pasteurized before each feeding, and all feeding equipment is disinfected with chlorine after use.

“We put the calves in single hutches for four to five weeks to make sure they’re past the most susceptible age,” Houweling said.

After that, they’re moved into group hutches that house six calves. Once empty, the hutches are pressure-washed and disinfected.

Calves are vaccinated with Express 5 at approximately 6 weeks old. Heifers are vaccinated again with Express 5, as well as Tasvax 8, at 8 to 9 months old.

“The cost of vaccines starts to wear on a guy, but a breakout of a number of diseases scares us even more,” he said. “It’s just cheap insurance.”

They emphasize sound reproduction to maintain a closed herd, which they’ve had for nearly 35 years with the exception of a small herd purchased in the late 2000s. Before purchase, the herd was tested for leukosis and Staph. aureus, and cows were checked for hairy warts. To this day, they don’t have to deal with those diseases.

They ask visitors coming to the farm to wear clean clothing and plastic boots. For employees and the veterinarian who work on other farms, they keep a set of coveralls and boots at Houweling Farms. They have a washer and a dryer specifically for coveralls, hoodies, coats, etc.

“It’s pretty cheap compared to the cost of replacement cows and heifers,” he said.

They also keep disinfectant supplies for the nutritionist, classifier, DHI tester, etc., to use arriving at and leaving the farm.

“Don’t just assume because someone’s professional that they’re conscious about transmitting disease,” he said.

The farm has a tendency to reuse needles but uses small plastic containers with a little bit of alcohol to disinfect them between each use.

They keep the feed in the barn clean by washing down the cross alley before the feed truck goes through and by having a feed pusher for each half of the barn so they don’t have to go across the cross alley.

They emphasize proper milking protocols to limit the transfer of disease between cows through the milking equipment. Milkers wear gloves and arm sleeves.

Cows are vaccinated with J-5 to prevent mastitis, and the farm DHI tests. High-SCC (somatic cell count) cows are marked with green tape so milkers know to rinse out the claw and spray on post-dip.

They milk 450 cows 3X and run the barn scrapers one hour before milking, at milking after the stalls were raked and one hour after the last cow returns to the pen.

“Keeping their legs clean should also keep stalls and therefore the udders clean,” he said.

The manure drop chute is positioned in the middle of the barn to keep the scrapers from pulling manure the full length of the barn.

Tip troughs make it easy to clean the islands, and carefully positioned man-passes prevent stepping in the feed with dirty boots.

“If we all focus on the little things within your own herd, you will maximize growth, production and cleanliness, and are going to have much more success in preventing the transfer of disease,” he said.

Country Charm Farms uses biosecurity to battle the spread of leukosis and Staph. aureus

Joel Huizing also farms with his dad and brother at Country Charm Farms Ltd., Abbotsford, British Columbia. They milk 260 registered Holstein cows 3X through a double-12 parallel parlour. Their cows are housed in a six-row, sand-bedded freestall.

After finding a cow with clinical leukosis symptoms, they started testing the entire herd with tests from DHI in 2013. The result was a 16.7% prevalence, and each cow’s record was marked positive, suspect or negative. They bought a pasteurizer for milk for the calves but did not pasteurize the colostrum. Instead, they only fed and stored colostrum from negative cows. Colostrum from first-lactation heifers (leukosis status unknown) was fed back to the calf at that time. In addition, they stopped sharing needles for injections on cows.

After three years, the herd was tested again, and they found an increase of leukosis in first-lactation animals, which prompted a few more protocol changes. They stopped using colostrum from unknown heifers and fed colostrum replacer to those calves.

This past year, the Huizings started experimenting with colostrum bags in the pasteurizer. “Now we can take full advantage of our scours vaccination program on the cows, and we can also protect against leukosis with this,” he said.

As an extra precaution, they do not feed milk from positive cows to calves.

To continue to reduce leukosis in the herd, the Huizings are looking at external identification for positive cows, removing calves more quickly after birth, breeding positive animals to beef or flushing those that are genetically valuable and culling.

“We are comfortable with seeing a decreasing rate over time that will hopefully lead to complete eradication in the future,” he said.

A couple of cows tested positive for Staph. aureus a year-and-a-half ago during a routine set of cultures on high-SCC cows.

They are a closed herd that uses TopVac in its vaccination program. Prior to this, they had not had any cultures come back positive for staph.

With the help of their vet clinic, they sampled the entire herd in one milking. The cultures revealed 10 positive cows, which were all then tested by quarter. Cows with more than one infected quarter were culled as soon as possible. Cows positive in one quarter were put on an eight-day extended treatment with Pirsue and followed up with a milk culture. Three out of the four treated cows tested negative. In addition, they installed a backflush with iodine in the parlour.

One year later, they tested the whole herd again and found two positive cows. A first-lactation cow came up positive, so they are now looking at changes with the youngstock.

With the rollout of the proAction biosecurity requirements, the Huizings sat down with their vet to identify other pathogens they wanted to control and then figured out the protocols they needed.

They kept this in mind when building a calf barn this past year and set protocols to prevent pathogens like E. coli and cryptosporidium.

They kept both the old and new calf facilities running for a couple of months, so only new calves were moved into the new barn. They purchased all new equipment for the new barn and recently added a commercial dishwasher to clean the bottles, nipples and pails used to collect milk.

When both calf barns were used, they tried to have two employees feeding calves, one in each barn. If only one calf feeder was available, they’d work in the new barn before feeding calves in the old barn.

“This had its own set of hassles, as everything had to be kept separate. It took quite a bit of extra time, but we wanted to be extra cautious, as we only had one chance to do it right,” Huizing said.

They try to minimize equipment traveling between buildings from entering the calf barn. The wheelbarrow for carrying newborn calves will stop at a wash grate and travel in a designated buffer zone. The bottle cart for calf feeding stays outside unless the weather is bad.

They have a dedicated bull calf pickup hutch, which is mounted on a wood frame that can be moved with the skid loader. The Huizings load the hutch themselves and take it to the corner of the driveway where the transport can pick up the calves.

For biosecurity in the new barn, they have a boot wash station by each door and a sign that instructs employees and outside traffic to first remove soil from their boots with the provided hose and then use the boot dip. They also have plastic boots available.

For the boot wash, he opted for the peroxide-based Prevail for its ease of use. They replace the solution based on soil levels. For the calf barn office that occurs every two to three days, but the boot washes at the front of the farm last about a week.

There is a boot wash at the farm office and another by the herd office where the hoof trimmer, veterinarian and A.I. supplies enter. They have signage in place but find better compliance if they call or text before the scheduled visit to tell them to use the boot dip upon arrival.

“It may take a while before these biosecurity measures become normal practice,” Huizing said. “But the more farms that start employing that, the easier it’s going to get for everyone.”

Rayner Dairy Research and Teaching Facility beef up biosecurity for Salmonella Dublin

Jay Olyniuk is the manager of the Rayner Dairy Research and Teaching Facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The dairy milks 110 cows with three different milking systems in one barn – robot, tiestall and herringbone parlour. It is a closed herd that first detected Salmonella Dublin in fall 2018.

“We just thought we had some viral pneumonia happening with our calves, but what was different this time is none of these calves were responding to any treatment,” Olyniuk said.

After losing a few calves, they did a post-mortem exam to get the diagnosis. They immediately isolated the dams of the calves. Realizing there were probably more undetected cows, they set up a plan to test the herd every three to five months. Positive cows were moved to one of the two tiestall areas that they converted to a freestall.

These cows were put on an accelerated culling program. The initial positive cows were deemed to be shedding animals and were culled immediately. Other positive cows were culled if they came down with another issue, such as mastitis or lameness. Good milking cows stayed but were labeled “do not breed,” and these cows were always handled last to limit the spread in the herd.

Calves were moved immediately after birth, and fecal cultures were done three times on fresh cows when they were most likely to shed. A positive cow would be culled, and a negative cow could return to the milking string.

After the first diagnosis, they depopulated the calf barn and had it sanitized. Now the only point of entry is through a locked door. The key is kept in a lockbox nearby with a limited number of employees who have the combination.

Students are allowed entry for research, but they have to wear disposable coveralls, use the boot wash and put on disposable boots. They are always accompanied by someone who can unlock the door.

Students started placing their phones into sealable plastic bags, and Olyniuk said it will become a procedure across the farm. “It’s super-inexpensive. Your phones are super-dirty if you think about it,” he said. “Put your phone into a Ziploc bag, and your phone still works. When you’re done, just throw the bag out and your phone is clean.”

Like the Huizings, they have a special holding pen for bull calves to be picked up once a week, so they don’t have to enter the facility.

“We don’t have to worry about what they’re bringing in and they don’t have to worry about what they’re taking out,” he said.

They created one entry point for the dairy facility with a boot wash before and after the door for people to step through twice.

Staff members have separate boots for the dairy and for the calf barn. Service providers are asked to wear boot covers or, if they are frequent farm visitors, they keep a pair of boots at the farm.

For sterilizing equipment, they stopped using pressure washers because of how far they spray material. “Foam cleaners, a brush and just good, old-fashioned elbow grease has been the best way for us to clean,” Olyniuk said.

All equipment is washed regularly, but for special precaution they have a separate skid loader bucket for the positive cow pen. When the skid loader leaves the pen, the bucket and tires are cleaned. In addition, they re-routed traffic in the barn so that pen would be last.

“I’m happy to say that now, through testing and that, there’s been no new positive cows on the farm. So we broke that chain of transmission,” Olyniuk said.

“That being said, we still have to keep this conversation going because it happened once and we’re a closed herd,” he added. “This was a high-stress time. I don’t want to go through it again. Nobody there wants to go through it again.”

They try to inform new students about what they are doing and why.

Biosecurity is also part of the farm’s educational message, as it welcomes the public at all times. They can visit through a visitor entrance that leads to a catwalk over the barn. Visitors are also asked to sign a guest book.

Olyniuk finds listening to be just as important as teaching. “We’re always wanting to learn new protocols and ways to improve,” he said.  end mark

PHOTO: Participating in the producer panel on biosecurity at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in March were, left to right, Joel Huizing, Jay Olyniuk and Jesse Houweling. Photo by Karen Lee.

Karen Lee