In the farming and veterinary worlds, we use the word biosecurity a lot. It sounds scary, like maybe we’re doing something we shouldn’t, or something the government should be involved in. But it’s not scary at all. Biosecurity is just a fancy word for the things we do to try to keep our animals healthy.
You practice biosecurity at home every day. Little things like washing your hands before and after you handle food, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and using disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are all parts of biosecurity. Put this way, it sounds kind of simple. But when we’re talking about keeping three different flocks of 20,000 turkeys healthy at the same time, it can get a little complicated.
Those of you with kids know what happens when one kid in the class gets sick. Soon, everyone in the class gets sick, and chances are some family members at home get sick, too. While it’s annoying (and an inconvenience), bringing home the sniffles usually isn’t a very big deal. But, when one turkey gets sick with a potentially life-threatening disease, and spreads it to 20,000 of his closest friends, and maybe to two other nearby flocks of turkeys, it can be a very big deal indeed.
First and foremost, farmers are worried about the quality of life of their turkeys (and pigs, and cattle, and any other animal they are raising). So farmers do their best to prevent their animals from getting sick in the first place. If they do get sick, farmers can work with their veterinarian to determine the right medications to give the animals (either individually or as a group) to help them get better as quickly as possible.
The second problem the farmers may face with sick animals is stunted growth. Feed is the most expensive part of a farmer’s budget. Feed amounts are carefully calculated so the animals get as much as they need to grow, but not so much that they get too big too fast. When animals get sick, one of the common signs for any disease is a decreased appetite. Sometimes, they may eat the same amount of food, but use that energy to get better instead of growing. Farmers will still spend the same amount of money on feed for the animals, but may have more feed wasted or the animals may not gain weight as well. When farmers sell their animals, they are paid based on how much the animals weigh. On Katie and Bart’s farm, their goal is to have turkeys weigh between 38-42 pounds when they are sold. If the turkeys are sick during the time they are supposed to be growing, and they only weigh 30-35 pounds when they are sold, Katie and Bart may actually lose money on a flock of turkeys.
Finally, many diseases that turkeys (or any other animal) can get may be life-threatening. Nothing breaks a farmer’s heart more than seeing an animal, or a group of animals, that he has raised get sick and die. And remember, farming is still a business and the way many people make their living. If an animal (or a whole flock or herd) dies, the farmer usually cannot recoup any of the financial losses he had from feeding and taking care of the animals. This can cause farmers to go out of business!
We’ve already seen that turkey poults get vaccines and probiotics on the day they hatch to help keep them healthy. But that’s not always enough. Katie and Bart (and all other farmers) also take other precautions to try to keep diseases out of their flocks and herds. Thoroughly cleaning barns between groups of animals (all-in/all-out management) is one way to help reduce diseases on a farm.
Even though most people think of cats as a staple on farms, many animal farms do not have cats around. Cats, and the rodents they are there to control, can carry diseases that may not harm them, but can be very dangerous to other animals. Instead of relying on cats to keep mice at bay, many farmers will use traps to keep the rodent populations down. Insects can also carry diseases, and regular treatments to keep insect populations under control are very important to maintain flock and herd health.
Backyard poultry are becoming more and more popular, and this is a concern to people who raise poultry for a living. Biosecurity is often not as well controlled on small backyard farms as it is on a larger farm, and birds on these smaller farms may be at a higher risk of carrying some contagious diseases. If Katie’s children play at a friend’s house where there are a few backyard chickens, they could bring home any diseases those chickens might be carrying. Even if the chickens don’t look sick, they may still be carrying diseases that can be life-threatening to Katie’s turkeys. Katie’s kids need to be careful about the clothes and shoes they wear off their farm – they have a dedicated set of shoes they only wear inside their turkey barns, and they need to change clothes anytime they have been somewhere they might have had contact with other birds.
What surprises you most about biosecurity on farms? What do you do to keep your family and pets healthy?
For more turkey information, check out these articles:
- Brooder Houses for Turkeys
- Turkeys in the Finisher Barn
- Grown-Up Turkeys
- Feeding Turkeys
- Ventilation in Turkey Barns
- Cleaning Turkey Barns
I owe a big thank-you to Katie and Bart of On the Banks of Squaw Creek for letting me come visit their turkey farm, pick their brains about turkey farming, and the opportunity to check out their turkey barns and take all these wonderful pictures.