Keeping farmed animals – guidance

Disease prevention for livestock keepers and farmers

How to prevent the introduction and spread of animal disease by maintaining good hygiene and biosecurity standards.


This guide brings together guidance for livestock keepers and farmers on notifiable animal diseases, animal gatherings, dealing with fallen stock, and farm health planning.

Good hygiene and biosecurity measures

There are several hygiene and biosecurity measures that should be part of your farm routine.

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.

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 wildlife, 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.

See the guidance on animal gatherings licences.

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.

See the guidance on:

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

See the guidance on poultry farms: general regulations.

Notifiable animal diseases

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 Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Some diseases, called zoonoses’ can be passed on to people and it is critical that they are recognised and controlled.

See the guidance on notifiable diseases in animals.

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

For information on the National Control Programme for Salmonella see the guidance on Poultry farms: general regulations.

You can download an information sheet on common zoonoses in agriculture from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website (PDF, 117K).

Cross compliance

If you claim the Basic Payment Scheme, Countryside Stewardship, or certain rural development schemes you must follow cross compliance rules.

There is a Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) for the prevention and control of transmissble spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

See the cross compliance guidance for 2015

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 FHP

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:

  • fertility
  • milk quality and mastitis
  • lameness
  • infectious and parasitic disease
  • nutrition
  • calves and youngstock

Sheep FHP

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

‘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

Disposing of fallen stock

You must not bury or burn fallen stock in the open, other than in exceptional circumstances, 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:

  • knacker
  • hunt kennel
  • incinerator
  • renderer
  • 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 0345 0548888.

To find an approved knacker, hunt kennel, incinerator, maggot farm or renderer, you should contact your local APHA office. You must immediately contact your APHA 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).

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 line with animal by-products legislation.

See the list of approved premises for TSE testing of fallen cattle

See the guidance on fallen stock: safe disposal

Further information

NFSCo Helpline

0345 054 8888

BPA Helpline

01223 845 100

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

RPA Customer Service Centre

0345 603 7777

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Defra Farm Health Planning Team Helpline

020 7238 6873

Defra approved disinfectants for controlling animal disease

Download the HSE Farmwise guide to health and safety on farms from the HSE website (PDF, 1.25MB)

Download the preventing ill health at open farms guide from the HSE website (PDF, 237K)

Disease control cost-benefit models for different livestock on the FHP Models website

Cross compliance advisory service information on the Cross Compliance website