STILLWATER, Okla. — From county jackpots to statewide shows, Oklahoma’s youth livestock arena is competitive and fun, but animal health is a priority.
Not all 4-H and FFA exhibitors can bring home a grand champion ribbon, but they’re still winners when sound biosecurity measures protect livestock from viruses and other infectious disease. The public’s awareness of illness and proper hygiene has grown during the past two years, and animal health is no different. Every time an animal encounters another animal, there is potential for transmission.
“It’s very common for cattle to come home from a show and be under the weather,” said Dana Zook, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock specialist for the west district. “It could just be a virus, but there’s always a chance it could be more.”
A few years ago, the Oklahoma Youth Expo experienced an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, or PED. A coronavirus specific to swine that causes dehydration and diarrhea in all ages of swine, PED is deadly to piglets and can decimate litters of pigs. Show organizers, exhibitors and their parents and advisors learned some hard lessons about biosecurity.
“Event planners have taken serious logistical measures in addition to onsite health management,” said Rusty Gosz, Extension youth livestock specialist.
Those extra protocols include:
- Flipping the timing of breeding and market shows to ensure breeding animals are not exposed to market animals.
- Making market shows terminal.
- Adjusting livestock traffic flow to reduce potential exposures.
- Increasing sanitation practices and using disinfectant sprays on the show grounds, livestock equipment, traffic areas, panels, wash racks and pens.
- Increasing health inspections and the presence of veterinarians.
- Establishing quarantine and exit strategies in the case of a sick animal.
Before the show
Elimination and prevention of animal disease begins with a tidy environment in barns or pens where animals reside at home. Routine cleaning of floors, water and feed troughs, buckets and other equipment provides benefits beyond the spread of harmful agents.
“The value of a biosecurity plan requires a team commitment,” said Rosslyn Biggs, beef cattle Extension specialist at the OSU College for Veterinary Medicine. “Exhibitors should perform daily health assessments of their animals, keep close records of vaccines and ensure vaccines were administered in an appropriate manner. New animals at home should remain separated from the rest of the herd in isolation for two to three weeks, and animals should be monitored to prevent the exposure of wildlife and other species.”
At the show
Biosecurity precautions also involve a thorough health inspection of animals with accompanying documentation, properly filled out by exhibitors and signed by a licensed veterinarian. Keep that paperwork in an easily accessible spot in a vehicle and have it ready for review upon arrival. This streamlines the check-in process and reduces the amount of time animals must stand in trailers, waiting for clearance to enter the show grounds.
Basic biosecurity measures include clean bedding in an animal’s pen and tie-out area, keeping a well-stocked show box of animal health and safety items recommended by a veterinarian in case of an emergency, and being mindful of the potential for disease at the community wash racks.
“There’s the risk of respiratory disease at the wash racks where multiple animals can stand and touch the same things,” Biggs said. “It’s important to police wash racks and common areas to keep them free of manure, and don’t allow animals to drink from community water tubs.”
Avoiding stacking buckets also can eliminate the spread of a virus or disease. When dirt from the bottom of a bucket touches the inside of another where feed is stored, biosecurity is at risk.
“Animals are affected by dirt and things just like we are,” Zook said. “Preventing a biosecurity hazard involves common sense practices and good personal hygiene.”
After the show
After a long week or weekend away, animals returning home from a show should be quarantined from the rest of the herd for two to three weeks. Avoid nose-to-nose contact with other animals and feed and water the isolated animals in separate buckets and troughs.
“Change up the feeding order to care for the rest of the herd first before isolated animals to prevent spreading something through the entire herd,” Zook said. “Also, if a person has been around isolated animals and must go around other animals, they should take a shower beforehand, wash hands, or put on clean clothes, boots or shoes.”
The key to cleaning
Zook and Biggs also stressed that the most important thing to remember when cleaning equipment at a show or after returning home is to use soap and water first to remove any organic debris, including hay, manure or bed shavings.
“Applying disinfectant directly on organic matter will only inactivate the disinfectant almost instantaneously,” Biggs said. “Once equipment has been thoroughly cleaned, then apply disinfectant at the appropriate contact time.”
With the help of parents, advisors, veterinarians and peers, youth livestock exhibitors can practice a few basic steps to prevent illness in not only their prize animals but also those of their fellow exhibitors across the state. Maintaining a tidy appearance and caring for animals in a clean and responsible way is part of the livestock exhibition experience. Gosz said that while animals are judged in the show ring, exhibitors need to take ownership of their appearance and behavior, which are viewed on a much broader scale. Don’t cut corners with proper biosecurity and health measures; be vigilant and take the task seriously.
“Our livestock shows produce less than 2% of what we’re putting into the food chain, but probably 85% to 90% of the general public views agriculture through livestock shows,” he said. “We carry a huge responsibility of what people see, how clean we are, how we take care of our animals and how we feed our families.”
Earlier this year, OSU’s Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Series featured this topic in a collection of videos on show cattle fundamentals. Watch Biggs and Gosz discuss biosecurity at youth livestock shows.
Oklahoma State University
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