Disease prevention for livestock and poultry keepers

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

The action you take on your farm is vital in stopping the introduction and spread of animal diseases in the UK. You must practise good biosecurity measures at all times.

Disease may not always be apparent especially in the early stages and there are many ways disease can be introduced and spread.

Farm animal and bird diseases are mainly spread through:

  • animals moving between and within farms and, in particular, the introduction of new animals
  • direct or close contact with neighbours’ animals
  • sharing vehicles, machinery, equipment, feed and bedding between farms
  • movement of people, especially workers, between and within farms
  • farm visitors – people, pets, equipment and vehicles
  • contamination by wildlife, vermin and wild birds
  • animals drinking from contaminated rivers and streams

Some animal diseases such as bluetongue are only spread by insects or contaminated veterinary equipment.

Some diseases are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between humans and animals, and so good biosecurity can also reduce the risk of disease exposure to your workers and members of the public who visit your farm.

If you suspect a notifiable disease in your animals you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.

Biosecurity measures

To prevent disease:

  • do not bring infection onto your farm, or spread it around your farm, on your clothes, footwear or hands
  • where possible, limit and control farm visitors – people and vehicles
  • keep farm access routes, parking areas, yards, feeding and storage areas clean and tidy
  • have pressure washers, brushes, hoses, water and disinfectant available, and make sure visitors use them
  • do not allow contact with neighbours’ livestock and maintain your fences
  • do not share injecting and dosing equipment – if it cannot be avoided, cleanse and disinfect thoroughly
  • clean and then disinfect any farm machinery and equipment if you are sharing these with a neighbouring farm
  • introduce a pest control programme
  • fence off streams and rivers – supply clean fresh drinking water in troughs
  • keep livestock away from freshly spread slurry
  • ensure your livestock identification and record keeping is accurate and up-to-date
  • dispose of fallen stock (dead animals) properly
  • make a health plan with your vet for your herd or flock, including isolation for new or returning stock
  • know the health status of any animals or birds you are buying or moving
  • be vigilant to spot any signs of disease among your animals or birds, and report suspicions of notifiable disease to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) as soon as possible
  • follow specific biosecurity advice for poultry keepers

Staff and visitors

To prevent disease:

  • train staff on the principles of hygiene and disease security
  • include signs directing visitors to the farmhouse or office, and urging visitors not to feed animals or get in close contact
  • reduce the number of visitors to your farm – consider having a farm post box at the end of your drive
  • where possible, provide a hard standing area away from livestock for visitors’ vehicles
  • keep your farmyard and surroundings clean and tidy to discourage vermin
  • provide cleaning and disinfectant materials for all visitors and workers
  • consider offering protective clothing and footwear – wellington boots are recommended because they are easy to clean and disinfect
  • wash your hands with soap and water after handling livestock
  • avoid wearing dirty clothes and footwear off the farm – this is important when visiting markets, shows, farms and other premises where there are livestock

See Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance for agricultural workers on zoonoses which outlines the duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 and the simple control measures such as hand washing.

See also HSE guidance on preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions or open farms.

Buildings, equipment and vehicles

To prevent disease:

  • keep vehicles clean inside and out
  • clean and disinfect vehicles and trailers (preferably with a power hose)
  • pay attention to areas where dirt may be hidden such as wheel arches
  • clean and disinfect all shared and hired equipment before and after use
  • make sure that animals kept indoors have fresh clean dry bedding
  • dispose of used bedding away from livestock, humans and watercourses as it can cause contamination
  • clean and disinfect buildings and equipment after use by livestock
  • safely dispose of used equipment such as disposable clothing and veterinary equipment

See the guidance on using Defra approved disinfectants

Buying new stock or returning your stock to the farm

Always know the health status of animals you are buying or moving. To prevent disease:

  • keep incoming and returning stock separate from the rest of the herd or flock
  • use separate equipment and staff or handle isolated stock last
  • keep isolation buildings as near as possible to the farm entrance and separate from other livestock buildings by 3 metres
  • if using a paddock, keep it separated by at least 3 metres (with double fencing) from other animals on the farm

You must follow the rules about identifying, tracing and moving your animals to stop the spread of disease.

Feed and water

Various diseases can be spread by contaminated feed and water, so to reduce the risk:

  • use mains water wherever possible
  • have water bowls or drinkers above the level for faecal contamination
  • avoid contamination of watercourses
  • clean feed and water troughs regularly
  • discourage dogs and cats from walking in feed troughs
  • keep feed in a clean, dry store
  • keep feed stores covered and shut to ensure no access by dogs, cats, vermin and wildlife
  • dispose of old or soiled feed safely
  • avoid swill feeding which is banned

Find out more about preventing disease from animal by-products and farm animal feed.

Slurry management

Infections can survive in slurry and manure, so to reduce the risk:

  • spread slurry on arable land rather than grass for silage making or stock grazing – if this is not possible, contact APHA for advice
  • spread slurry using an inverted spreading plate
  • avoid using hired or shared spreaders if possible – if sharing is unavoidable, ensure spreaders are thoroughly cleansed before coming on your farm and cleansed again before leaving
Published 11 September 2012
Last updated 21 September 2015 + show all updates
  1. Guide reviewed and redrafted, web links updated

  2. Updated links to detailed guides.

  3. First published.