Most dairy producers who have faced a disease outbreak or a crisis on their operation will share a similar piece of advice they learned in hindsight: Don’t wait until an outbreak or crisis to do something. 

Barge emily
Communications and Marketing Manager / Center for Dairy Excellence

So how can you make biosecurity planning a priority? The first step is realizing that everyone – even service providers outside of your immediate dairy team – plays a role in biosecurity. 

During the Pennsylvania Animal Agriculture Industry Breakfast in August, Dr. Hayley Springer and Dr. John Boney of Pennsylvania State University shared how biosecurity should be an industry-wide commitment for the dairy community. Everyone is part of the process. 

“It can be your neighbor. It may be your brother. It may even be your cousin who you call in to help on the farm. Even in those situations, with those more personal relationships, biosecurity should be at the forefront and something we’re thinking about and implementing,” Boney said.

Springer had experience in both mixed and dairy-only veterinary practice before beginning her academic career. Now, she is involved in both livestock-related and vector-borne disease extension work. Boney served as a liaison between the USDA and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture during the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the poultry industry, giving him boots-on-the-ground experience during the outbreak. 


They shared proactive ways that dairy producers and service providers can work together to champion biosecurity before it’s too late.

Biosecurity planning and what it means for dairy producers

At the farm level, everyday biosecurity starts with identifying who sets foot on your dairy. According to Springer, this can help us better understand everyday biosecurity practices – and how your team can stop diseases from entering your herd.

“An important aspect of understanding biosecurity practices is to understand how diseases spread,” she explained.

Springer shared several ways diseases can spread within dairy herds:

  • Vector-born disease: Carried in a host animal (Example: ticks > theileria)
  • Iatrogenic transmission: Humans transmitting the disease (Example: reuse of needles > anaplasmosis)
  • Direct contact between animals (Example: BVD)
  • Oral: Fecal-oral is the most common transmission of disease (Example: E. coli, scours)
  • Aerosol (Example: BRD)
  • Fomite: Any inanimate object that transmits disease (Example: boots > salmonella)
  • Reproductive (Example: IBR)

The true cost of an outbreak

Along with protecting your herd from the risk of disease, dairy producers who have everyday biosecurity plans can also mitigate their financial risk. Springer referenced a Colorado dairy farm that recently added a new facility, including a 60-cow rotary and separate parlor for hospital/fresh cows. 

This expansion meant growing the milking herd from 350 to 2,500 cows. The farm purchased cows and heifers from 15 sources. Each source tested negative for mycoplasma on a single bulk tank culture. It was noted that one culture is not sufficient for a true reading and several cultures should have been taken. Instead, individual cows were cultured only at freshening or in a clinical case. As a result, the farm was faced with 560 new mycoplasma mastitis cases in the first 17 months after the expansion, and 88% of this group had previous visits to the hospital pen with negative cultures. Multiple calves displayed respiratory disease, swollen joints, drooping ears and head tilts.

Ultimately, in this example, milk cultures cost the farm $100,000. There was increased culling, added labor for the hospital pen, more discarded milk, calf losses and reduced average daily gain (ADG) in calves, which added to the financial implications. While many of these circumstances cannot be labeled with a specific price, Springer says they were certainly costly to the dairy.

To prevent a costly biosecurity risk, it is important to identify risks and gaps within the operation that will then drive the development of your protocols. People are the most important component for executing a biosecurity plan to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

“Building good protocols and making sure people are trained can have a huge impact on everyday biosecurity,” Springer said.

For the dairy in Colorado, they identified transmission pathways that the mycoplasma was spreading (direct contact, oral, aerosol and fomite). Employees were trained on what mastitis is, how it spreads, how to recognize it, methods to prevent spreading during milking, proper treatment techniques and milking machine disinfection. The dairy operation was faced with one to two cases of mycoplasma per day before this type of training, but after their employees were trained in this area, case numbers dropped to only one to two cases per month. 

Their calf health also improved because of the biosecurity plan and training. Employees were trained to recognize early signs of respiratory disease, and sick calves were moved to outdoor hutches to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission. Putting biosecurity protocols in place and training their employees made a significant impact on herd health and profitability.

Mastering the essentials

To start building biosecurity protocols for your operation, the everyday essentials are key. Once you master those, dairy producers can continue to build heightened biosecurity plans. If approved by state officials, a heightened plan could speed up the acquisition of a permit in the face of a high-consequence animal disease outbreak.

“When talking about biosecurity, everyone needs to be involved and informed,” Springer said. “Farms with an approved enhanced biosecurity and continuity of business plan will be at the front of the line for permits to then continue doing business in the face of an outbreak.”

Biosecurity planning and how service providers play a role

When it comes to risk and reward, and complying with a farm’s biosecurity measures, Boney shared how service providers fit into that.

“We want to ensure the animals and farms you’re servicing are safe and secure. If not, you won’t have animals and farms to service,” Boney said. “You want to present yourself as a low-risk, high-reward service provider so you’re continually called, and you can stay employed.”

A dairy farm may have spent significant time developing and implementing biosecurity protocols for their team, but if the service professionals visiting the operation are not following them, it exposes a huge risk. Boney says service professionals must take an active role in supporting each farm’s efforts. This might involve creating company-wide protocols to ensure they are being perceived as safe service providers.

He shared several reminders for individuals who visit multiple farms in a day:

  • You are the risk. “You’re servicing animals and farms. Appreciate that, embrace that and think about how you can do better and not always rely on a biosecurity plan written by a producer,” Boney said. “Maybe you should have some company-wide biosecurity measures in place so you can be perceived as a safe service provider.”
  • Take an active role in supporting biosecurity efforts. “In my biosecurity box, I have disposable boot covers. I carry around some general disinfectants. I have some instant soap and water so I can wash my hands when I’m going from one barn to another. I have coveralls, hair nets and trash bags,” Boney said. “Take the initiative to not only rely on the producer you’re servicing to have protocols in place, but work to provide it on your own. Have something like this that you can take to the farm. It’s a small cost on your end, but it’s really a great, preventative tool to help champion biosecurity.”
  • Help share the message. “If you show up to a farm and you see there’s no signage, this is an area where you can help,” Boney said. “Get some material and leave it at the farm.”

An industry-wide shift

For dairy producers and service professionals alike, building an effective biosecurity plan is more than thinking about it. Write out your protocols for employees, service professionals and other visitors, and make sure to communicate them or provide them in writing. 

“It’s one thing to think about what you would do for biosecurity measures. It’s another thing to sit down and write these plans out. It really makes you think about operational biosecurity,” Boney said. “It gives you an opportunity to identify weaknesses and shortfalls in biosecurity, and ultimately, reduce risk to ensure the safety of your operation.”

As biosecurity continues to become a priority on dairy operations across the country, Boney says on-farm processes will change across every sector. It will be an industry-wide shift, and service professionals should be vigilant and prepared.

“[As biosecurity measures are implemented], it won’t be as simple for the milk truck to drive in and collect milk. There are going to be ongoing changes happening on the farm. Try to stay vigilant and be aware,” Boney said. “Your clients may start asking you more questions. They want to make sure they can have continuity of business.”