Disease prevention for livestock farmers
As a livestock farmer you are probably already using hygiene and biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of animal disease.
This guide brings together resources and new information for livestock farmers in England on animal diseases - including notifiable diseases and diseases that are infectious to humans - dealing with fallen stock, and farm health planning.
Routine good hygiene and biosecurity measures
There are several hygiene and biosecurity measures that should be part of your farm routine.
General biosecurity measures
The key to good biosecurity is reducing and controlling the movements of people, vehicles or equipment into areas where your farm animals are kept. Some diseases are more prevalent than others. For example, if you keep livestock, you will particularly be on the alert for foot and mouth disease whereas poultry keepers need to be vigilant against avian influenza (bird flu).
You should cleanse and disinfect protective clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with farm animals. Where practicable, you should use disposable protective clothing.
Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) - a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) agency - is responsible for ensuring that farm animals are healthy, disease-free and well looked after.
Good hygiene and biosecurity is essential to:
- prevent the introduction of animal disease
- protect the health of your animals and workers
- reduce the risk of disease exposure to any members of the public who visit your farm - this is particularly important if you hold open days or farm visits
Your biosecurity measures need to be routine because:
- farm animal diseases can be easily spread
- disease may not always be apparent - especially in the early stages
Farm animal diseases are mainly spread through:
- animals, people and machinery moving between and within farms
- farm visitors - people and vehicles
- introducing new animals
- contact with neighbours’ livestock
- shared farm equipment
- contamination by vermin and wild birds
- animals drinking from contaminated rivers and streams
Biosecurity at agricultural markets and shows
It is essential to keep up and improve standards of biosecurity on farms, in markets and on livestock vehicles to cut down the risk of spreading disease.
Under the Animal Gatherings Order 2010, a general licence is required for any livestock gathering - eg markets and shows - alongside the industry’s commitment to best practice.
The golden rule is ‘clean in, clean off’:
- don’t bring onto or take off the market any vehicle, equipment or clothing contaminated with animal excreta - other than the inside of vehicles or protective clothing taken off the site for disposal or laundering
- don’t leave the animal area without cleaning any contamination from your clothes
- don’t leave the animal area without cleansing and disinfecting your boots
Biosecurity measures at markets and shows are legally enforceable.
Livestock movements, identification and tracing
Strict rules control identifying and moving livestock - even if you only keep one animal. You should know the health status of any animals before buying them. When new animals first arrive, you should keep them separate from other livestock and handle them last. You can find out about these rules in sheep and goats identification, registration and movement, cattle identification, registration and movement, pigs identification, registration and movement and deer health, welfare and movement.
The National Control Programme (NCP) for Salmonella in poultry, laying flocks and eggs
If you keep hens or produce eggs, you must also comply with the NCP, which places duties on farmers to detect, control and eliminate all Salmonella serotypes of significance to public health. The NCP requirements apply to:
- laying flocks of more than 350 hens on a single premises
- eggs for hatching and farmyard poultry chicks
- eggs in shell for human consumption
You can find more information by reading Poultry farms: general regulations.
Notifiable farm animal diseases and protecting people
There are many types of farm animal illnesses, some of which are notifiable. A notifiable disease is a named disease that must be reported to the AHVLA. Some diseases - called ‘zoonoses’ - can be passed on to people and it is critical that they are recognised and controlled.
For more information on symptoms and preventive measures of notifiable diseases, read Disease notification: duties of farmers.
Notifiable farm animal diseases in the UK include major diseases, such as:
- avian influenza - also known as AI
- bovine spongiform encephalopathy - also known as BSE - and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
- classical swine fever
- foot and mouth disease
- Newcastle disease
You can find out more about notifiable diseases in cattle by reading Beef cattle and dairy cows: health regulations.
If you suspect signs of a notifiable disease - as listed on the Defra website - you must immediately contact AHVLA.
You must impose movement restrictions on your farm if you believe your stock may be infected with a notifiable disease. If a notifiable disease is confirmed, the AHVLA puts in place measures to control the outbreak.
You must make plans to ensure the welfare of your stock, and you should consider the likely implications of movement controls during an outbreak when preparing contingency plans for your business - eg making provision for keeping animals past their intended slaughter weight.
If you have general concerns about the health of animals in your care, you should first check with your own vet.
Stock inspection and caring for sick animals
Signs of notifiable farm animal diseases vary widely according to the disease and species of animal.
Good stockmanship and vigilance will increase your chances of spotting disease among your livestock.
Your farm staff should inspect animals thoroughly at least daily, and you should ensure that there is adequate lighting for them to do so.
You should care for any sick animals immediately, and seek veterinary advice if they don’t respond to your care. Sick animals should be isolated in a suitable place, with dry, comfortable bedding.
Farm diseases that affect people - zoonoses
Zoonoses are animal infections and diseases that can be passed on to humans and are covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002.
Types of zoonoses in the UK include:
- Escherichia coli O157 (E coli O157) - causes illness ranging from diarrhoea to kidney failure, and can be fatal
- Salmonella - effects include diarrhoea, fever and abdominal pains
- Cryptosporidium parvum - may cause diarrhoea and abdominal pains, with flu-like symptoms for up to six weeks
- Leptospirosis (Weill’s disease and cattle-associated leptospirosis) - both may lead to jaundice, meningitis and kidney failure
- bovine tuberculosis
You can read about the National Control Programme for Salmonella in Poultry farms: general regulations.
You can download an information sheet on common zoonoses in agriculture from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website (PDF, 117K).
Disease prevention and cross compliance
Cross compliance requirements apply to you if you receive direct payments under Common Agricultural Policy support schemes or if you receive payments under certain Rural Development schemes. To receive your full subsidy payment you must comply with the Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and standards of good agricultural and environmental condition requirements that apply to your business.
If you don’t carry out your SMR obligations, you may face enforcement action and even prosecution.
A number of SMRs apply to disease prevention and control, including SMRs 12, 13, 14 and 15 for the prevention and control of animal disease.
The aim of SMRs 12, 13, 14 and 15 is to minimise the risk posed to human and animal health by certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), foot and mouth, bluetongue and other animal diseases. These will apply to you if you keep farmed animals.
For more information on disease prevention in cows, read Beef cattle and dairy cows: health regulations.
For more information on disease prevention in pigs, read Pig farming: health regulations.
For more information on disease prevention in sheep and goats, read Sheep and goats: health regulations.
You can also download information on SMR 12 - prevention and control of TSEs from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) website (PDF, 783K).
Download information on SMRs 13, 14 and 15 - control of foot and mouth disease, certain animal diseases and bluetongue from the RPA website (PDF, 729K).
Controlling farm diseases that can infect humans
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) publishes guidance on the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), which relate directly to animal diseases on farms.
The COSHH 2002 regulations cover diseases that can spread from animals to humans. These diseases are known as zoonoses.
Transmission can affect both farm workers and visitors. If your farm is open to the public, it is particularly important for you to have preventative measures in place.
Where zoonoses are known or likely to be present on the farm, you will need to carry out a COSHH risk assessment.
Under the COSHH regulations, employers and self-employed people must:
- assess risks to health from work activities which involve a hazardous substance - eg a microorganism
- prevent or control exposure to the hazardous substances
- introduce and maintain control measures
- inform, instruct and train employees about risks and precautions
- regularly review risk assessments and effectiveness of control measures
When making risk assessments, you must involve farm employees and especially safety representatives.
You should also ask employees - or potential employees - if they have any health conditions, such as suppressed immunity, which may make them vulnerable to zoonoses.
For more guidance, download an information sheet on zoonoses in agriculture from the HSE website (PDF, 117K).
You can also download a guide to the COSHH regulations from the HSE website (PDF, 206K).
Farm health planning
Farm health planning (FHP) is one of the most effective ways of tackling animal disease and improving your livestock’s performance. The main benefits are:
- improved farm profits
- improved sustainability
- better stock health and welfare
- a farmer/vet relationship focused on improving performance
FHP is based on four key principles:
- measure - use your records to identify how much disease costs your farm each year
- manage - with your vet or other adviser, prioritise control measures for problem health areas, using cost/benefit calculations and the most effective health management methods
- monitor - regularly review the progress of your FHP and change it as necessary
- seek advice - prevention is better than cure
Cattle herd health planning involves:
- recording disease in your cattle and how they perform
- checking with your vet or adviser so you can jointly spot existing health problems in livestock, rate them in economic importance, decide which problems to deal with and set your targets
- making management, husbandry, treatment or vaccination changes to reach your targets
- monitoring and reviewing your results against your targets and changing them according to experience
FHP in a dairy herd
For a dairy herd, FHP should cover the following areas:
- milk quality and mastitis
- infectious and parasitic disease
- calves and youngstock
You can see Defra’s dairy herd FHP guidance on the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website.
The West Midlands pilot sheep FHP project is an example of first-time FHP for sheep farms.
One of the farms in the pilot project found that increasing the survival rate of lambs by just 5 per cent brought in enough extra income to cover the costs of setting up and running the health plan.
Poultry and game FHP
Poultry farmers who are members of schemes such as Assured Chicken Production, Quality British Turkey, Freedom Foods and others must all use FHP.
Defra is working with industry on a commercial sector pilot project to design, test and carry out a web-based Pig Herd Health Plan. Workshops on FHP for small-scale and hobby pig farmers are also taking place. For more information, please contact the British Pig Association (BPA) on the BPA Helpline on Tel 01223 845 100.
Disposal of fallen stock
The disposal of fallen stock and animal by-products (ABPs) not intended for human consumption is regulated in England by the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005.
As of 4 March 2011, revised animal by-products regulations in the European Union introduce a risk-based approach to the ABP regime. You can find news on the pending changes in the ABP regime on the Animal by-products: collection, storage and disposal guide.
‘Fallen stock’ can be any animal that has:
- died of natural causes or disease on the farm
- been killed on the farm for reasons other than human consumption
The National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) is a non-profit organisation that runs the voluntary National Fallen Stock Scheme for the collection and disposal of fallen stock.
Read our related guides for more detailed information on Animal by-products: collection, storage and disposal and fallen stock.
Disposing of fallen stock
You must not bury or burn fallen stock in the open, other than in exceptional circumstances - eg the outbreak of a notifiable disease - as this risks spreading disease through groundwater or air pollution.
When you find fallen stock, you should arrange for it to go to an approved:
- hunt kennel
- maggot farm
You can do this either by private arrangement or under the National Fallen Stock Scheme. For more information, you can contact the NFSCo Helpline on Tel 0845 054 8888.
To find an approved knacker, hunt kennel, incinerator, maggot farm or renderer, you should contact your AHVLA. You must immediately contact your AHVLA office if you think an animal has died of a notifiable disease.
Fallen cattle aged over 48 months
Fallen cattle over 48 months of age must be tested for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Fallen cattle over 24 months that were born outside Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK must also be tested for BSE.
You must contact a collector within 24 hours of your animal’s death, to arrange delivery to an approved sampling site within 72 hours. If you are delivering the carcass yourself, you must contact an approved sampling site to agree this within 24 hours and must deliver the carcass within 72 hours of the animal’s death.
Fallen cattle aged 48 months or under should be disposed of in accordance with animal by-products legislation.
You can download a list of approved premises for TSE testing of fallen cattle on the Defra website
For more information, see fallen stock.
Further information on disease prevention
There are several organisations who can help livestock farmers limit the spread of farm animal disease.
One of the major roles of Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on Tel 08459 33 55 77.
The AHVLA is an executive agency of Defra and is responsible for ensuring the welfare of farmed animals in Great Britain. It uses government policies to prevent and manage outbreaks of serious animal diseases, and safeguards public health from animal disease. You can call the AHVLA Information Line on Tel 0844 884 4600.
You can also find out more about bluetongue and foot and mouth disease by contacting the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.
If you have any suspicion of disease in your farm animals you should contact your local AHVLA office.
The NFSCo is a non profit organisation, which assists farmers in complying with animal by-product regulations. It provides a national service for collecting and disposing of fallen stock with high levels of bio-security.
You can also find information on the National Fallen Stock Scheme on the NFSCo website.
The Rural Payments Agency is responsible for licences and schemes for growers as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA Helpline on Tel 0845 603 7777.
The cross compliance advisory service covers livestock farmers in England. It is funded by Defra and operated by Momenta.
You can find out about the cross compliance advisory service on the Cross Compliance website.
You can also call the Cross Compliance Helpline on Tel 0845 345 1302.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities.
You can read about the work of the NFU on the NFU website.
0845 054 8888
01223 845 100
Cross Compliance Helpline
0845 345 1302
AHVLA Information Line
0844 884 4600
RPA Customer Service Centre
0845 603 7777
08459 33 55 77
Defra Farm Health Planning Team Helpline
020 7238 6873