Biosecurity Considerations When Exhibiting Animals

By Dave Seibert, Larry Firkins, Dick Wallace, and Mark Ernst

This document is a broad overview of biosecurity measures to consider when exhibiting animals. Livestock producers should contact their veterinarians to discuss appropriate measures specific to their operations while exhibiting at and returning from animal exhibitions.

Livestock exhibitions present a difficult challenge for the prevention of disease transmission. Before arriving at the fairgrounds, exhibitors should be aware of the consequences of inadequate biosecurity measures. Whenever animals from different premises are brought together in a common location, there is a risk that disease may be directly transmitted among animals and carried back to the herd. Pathogens that are very common on one farm may be minimal or non-existent on another.

In addition, disease may be indirectly transmitted on contaminated boots and clothing, feeding and grooming equipment, transportation vehicles, pests and other objects that come in contact with animals or their bodily fluids/excretions. Therefore, you should consider both direct and indirect disease transmission when you develop a biosecurity plan to minimize the risk of bringing disease home from livestock exhibitions. Producers will need to strike a compromise between their desire to exhibit their livestock and this inherent risk of disease transmission.

Biosecurity for Different Species and Types of Exhibitions

Animals exhibited at a terminal market animal show do not represent a threat of disease transmission to the home farm because they do not return to the herd. However, indirect transmission can occur when the exhibitor or equipment return home, so precautions must be taken.

When breeding animals are exhibited at the same location as terminal market animals, the breeding animals should ideally be shown first and should leave the exhibit before the market animals arrive to minimize exposure to additional animals. Any animal that has been exposed to other animals should be considered a risk for disease introduction.

All species of animals are potentially susceptible to diseases spread by other animals. Swine pose a greater risk than other species of introducing disease to the home herd. The infectious agents most likely to be encountered at livestock exhibitions cause viral and bacterial respiratory disease, but diarrhea- and abortion-causing organisms may also be present.

Biosecurity for All Species at the Exhibit

Every effort should be made to provide as much distance as possible between groups of animals from different farms. Dilution or reduction in the number of infectious particles is the goal. As distance between animals increases, the likelihood of disease transmission decreases.

Open panels and fencing that allow direct animal-to-animal contact provide no measure of protection against the spread of disease. Solid paneling provides some biosecurity, and a vacant pen or space separating animals from different premises is ideal. Ask for additional empty pens to physically separate animals, thus minimizing aerosol transmission of disease agents and preventing direct animal contact.

The show ring should be the only place where commingling of animals from different premises occurs; direct contact of animals at the wash rack and in transit to and from the pens should be minimized. Aisles should be kept clean, and bedding, urine, and manure should be regularly removed. Animals from different farms should never share feeding and watering equipment and other animal care supplies. Equipment should be cleaned and disinfected following each exhibition.

Avoid entering the pens/stalls and coming in contact with animals from other farms. A desire to provide a helping hand must be weighed against the reality of contamination. Contact the fair veterinarian or exhibition manager when animals are in need of attention. If you must contact animals from different premises, properly wash your hands and thoroughly clean and disinfect your boots and clothing before returning to your animals.

As a general rule at fairs, the public should be prohibited from eating and drinking in the animal exhibit area. The public should also be prevented from feeding human food to animals and discouraged from direct contact with exhibited animals.

If an animal becomes ill at the exhibit, consult a veterinarian and isolate the animal. Talk with your veterinarian before bringing your animal home, and isolate the sick animal from your other animals when you return home. Do not risk the health and productivity of your entire herd for one animal.

Returning Animals to the Farm After an Exhibition

The safest way to transport your animals is in your own vehicle. Do not haul animals from other farms. Transporting animals for others greatly increases the chance of transmitting a disease, since your animals will have direct contact with the animals being transported. Entering and leaving neighboring livestock operations while delivering other animals also increases the risk of exposure.

Every precaution should be taken when returning animals to the farm after an exhibition. Upon returning home, animals should be quarantined for at least 30 days before being commingled with the herd. For swine, a 60-day quarantine is recommended. Producers must weigh the risk of new disease introduction against the difficult task of quarantining animals.

Ideally the quarantined animals should be housed at a separate location while they are under quarantine. If a separate location is not possible, then the animals should be housed as far as possible from the home herd. Daily, the animals should be observed for signs of disease. Ask your veterinarian how long the animals should be quarantined and whether to test them for evidence of disease exposure before allowing contact with the herd.

Establish a work schedule so that employees do not move between isolated animals and the home herd when they are feeding and caring for these animals. For example, you may want to make one individual responsible for the care of the isolated animals. This work should be done at the end of the day, and the worker should use coveralls, head cover, and boots that can be left at the isolation area. These precautions will prevent potential pathogens being carried into the home herd. Be sure to isolate and disinfect feeding equipment and other inanimate objects that may have come in contact with exhibit animals and thus may have the potential to spread disease.

Since diseases can be carried on shoes, clothing, equipment, trucks, and trailers, all of these need to be cleaned and disinfected before they come into contact with the home herd. It is especially important that all manure and soil is removed from shoes, and shoes are properly disinfected. Aside from the exhibited animals, contaminated shoes are possibly the most common source of new disease introduction after a livestock exhibition.

The potential for disease transmission at livestock exhibitions is different for each livestock species. Most livestock exhibitors are well aware of the associated risks, but careful evaluation of each situation is a prudent measure. Producers must consider their reasons for exhibiting animals, the goals of their operations, the diseases prevalent within their industries, and the infectious nature of those diseases before developing an exhibition biosecurity plan. Whenever animals from numerous herds are brought together in a common location, upon return, there is a risk of introducing disease to the home farm. While the risk cannot be completely eliminated, livestock owners can minimize the risk by preparing a thorough biosecurity plan.

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