Whether you show your horses, ride them on local trails, or even if they never leave your farm, biosecurity is an important practice everyone needs to learn.
The term “biosecurity” is defined by Miriam-Webster as “security from exposure to harmful biological agents; also : measures taken to ensure this security.” One may think such security is an impossible task, but the task is easier than it sounds to put into practice. Think for a moment how you protect your self and your family from common diseases. Washing your hands, disinfecting surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, being careful of what you touch in public: these are all common practices that have become habitual for most of us. These habits are, in fact, biosecurity for your home.
Biosecurity for your farm is not hugely different. Some of the more basic steps you can take require, at most, a simple change in the daily routine. When you come home from work, the feed store, etc. change and/or clean your shoes before going to the barn. If you have been in close proximity to a sick animal, change your clothes and scrub your hands and arms with soap and hot water. If you have actually been in contact with a sick animal or animal fluids, take a shower before visiting with your own animals.
Any time you bring a new animal onto your property, quarantine that animal away from the existing animals on your farm. A closed stall in your barn or, at the very least, a paddock where the animal cannot come in contact with your other animals, is necessary. Do not share feed/water buckets, grooming supplies, or tack between the new animal and your existing animals. You don’t necessarily need to purchase new supplies for the quarantined animal, but you should disinfect all supplies and keep them separate. The quarantine period should be anywhere from 7 to 30 days depending on where the new animal came from and how familiar you are with the animal’s previous circumstances.
If you take your animals away from home, for any reason, be careful of your surroundings. At shows, you never know what virus or bacteria the animal in the stall or trailer next to you may be carrying. Just because you see no signs of illness does not guarantee the animal is not a disease carrier. If you are only going to be there for one day, consider tying your animals to your trailer rather than renting a stall. If renting a stall is necessary, be sure ALL bedding from previous use has been removed and replaced with fresh, clean bedding. If at all possible, spray the walls and floor down with a disinfectant spray. Bring your own feed/water buckets rather than utilizing previously used buckets. If bringing your own is not possible, disinfect whatever you borrow, both before and after use. When you return home, it’s a good idea to quarantine the animal(s) you took, just to be certain they don’t carry diseases back home.
If any of your animals do become ill, quarantine them immediately to protect the other animals on the farm. Use the same quarantine procedures you would use with any new animals – no sharing of supplies of any kind, and no direct contact with the other animals. After providing care to the sick animal, change your shoes and clothes before providing care to other animals.
Finally, arm yourself with knowledge. Learn which diseases are most common in your area and what the symptoms for those diseases look like. Vaccinate your animals when possible. Vaccines are not available for all diseases, nor are all vaccines necessary in all areas, so discuss with your vet what your specific animals need. You don’t have to spend hours of valuable time reading medical magazines or websites, but learning to ask questions and then using the information you gain is immensely valuable. The saying may be old, but it carries a lot of truth: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”