Manage Commingling

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Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Commingling is a common practice familiar to most beef cattle producers that involves the mixing of cattle from one operation with those of another. Examples include: putting animals on crown range or in community pastures, shows, live auction sales, bull tests, feedlots, backgrounding and more.

Most producers are familiar with commingling and it is integral to many if not most operations. The information here is intended to educate and inform producers regarding the risks associated with commingling and, at the same time, to suggest to producers practices within their own operations that may reduce the impacts of these risks.

1A.1. Segregate and, when warranted, vaccinate, test and otherwise treat incoming animals

Why Is This Important?

Incoming cattle may be carrying and shedding disease, even if they appear clinically healthy, and especially if they’ve been exposed to cattle from other herds and/or they are stressed due to weaning, mixing, shipping, etc.

  • Segregation protects the rest of the herd by providing time to identify disease in incoming cattle. It also protects the incoming cattle from diseases in the rest of the herd, until mitigating strategies like vaccination take effect.
  • Vaccination is used to increase the immunity of incoming cattle against diseases that may be present in the herd / environment.
  • Testing can help to identify disease risks that exist in incoming animals. Once identified these risks may be managed / treated in a manner that minimizes disease risks to animal and herd.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Determine your risk tolerance

A first step is to clearly determine the degree of risk to the health of your resident herd that you are willing and able to accept and manage. The degree of risk will vary and will be determined by such things as:

  • the type of herd maintained – registered purebred versus crossbred
  • farm management practices
  • producer expertise
  • production challenges, including diseases present
  • goals established by the producer

Producers of registered purebred herds who derive their primary income from selling breeding stock will have a lower risk tolerance than a backgrounding or feedlot operation.

b. Identify and assess the risk

Identify the risks of disease exposure and transmission, and determine whether they affect the incoming animals and / or the resident herd.

Once these risks have been identified, determine which management strategies can be used to mitigate them: Can the risks be:

  • Avoided
  • Reduced
  • Accepted

Some risks may be accepted and managed using practices such as segregation, combined with vaccination, testing and/or treatments. This has been a successful approach employed by feedlots.

These risks may also be avoided to a degree, for example with certain buying practices that limit the sources of incoming animals. This is part of a successful approach used by many cow-calf operations.

Some, perhaps many, operations will combine both risk avoidance and minimizing practices. In this situation, the operation might use buying practices as well as segregation, vaccination, testing and treatment practices. This integrated approach is successfully applied on cow-calf and purebred operations.

The appropriate approach for a specific operation will vary according to a range of factors, including the risks, the environment, the type of operation, etc. Producers should take the time to regularly evaluate these factors with their veterinarian, and identify the practices most appropriate to their operation.

For biosecurity purposes, disease risk management practices incorporate the concepts of avoidance, reduction and acceptance.

The appropriate practices will depend upon the costs and benefits for a specific operation.

c. Develop an “Incoming Animals Plan”

To be consistent and effective, develop an “Incoming Animals Plan” that incorporates segregation and vaccination, testing and treatment practices specific to your operation. Consult health records, personnel and your veterinarian for diseases of concern and appropriate vaccines, tests and treatments and their limitations. To see what an incoming animals plan might look like, See Schedule 3.

d. Review your buying practices

Use buying practices to limit the risk of introducing disease in incoming cattle. A “closed herd” with no introductions may be ideal, but is impractical for most operations.

Consider the class, source, timing and frequency of the purchases required. For example, there are significant risks that may result from buying untested bulls that have already been used for breeding, or buying foster calves or open cows.

  • Many operations limit their purchases to certain classes of animals, e.g. virgin bulls, bred cows or heifers.
  • Some producers choose to manage risk by limiting the number or type of sources they buy from, e.g. only from known sources, only from two or three locations, or directly from a breeder (herd of origin).
  • Producers can restrict introductions to certain times of the year when the risk may be reduced, or to only a few occasions per year when they can monitor the results effectively.
  • Lastly, for purebred operations, improving and increasing herd size through the use of artificial insemination and embryo transfer will reduce disease exposure.
e. Plan the arrival at the farm

Plan where incoming animals are unloaded, to minimize exposure to other cattle. Ideally, trucks should unload without entering the Production Area.

f. Segregate incoming animals

Segregate all incoming animals from the herd, on arrival, whether they are new or returning. This involves separation and regular monitoring for an extended period of time.

  • Segregation pens should be near the unloading facility and accessed without exposure to the herd.
  • Segregation pens should give incoming animals physical, spatial and procedural separation to avoid exposure to the herd. Avoid spreading disease from one group to the other, whether through run-off, fence-line or nose-to-nose contact, common equipment, clothing, footwear, personnel, pets, wildlife, etc. Consider using designated clothing, boots and equipment. Pens should be physically separate from the rest of the Production Area and a substantial distance from the herd to prevent aerosol spread, e.g. 60 m. or more. Procedures should minimize exposure through different equipment or personnel.
  • Animals in segregation should be regularly monitored for disease, for an extended period of time. Ideally this involves twice-daily observation for 14 days, possibly more depending on the diseases of concern or whether disease is observed.
  • Personnel monitoring segregated animals should know the signs of disease, treatments and response for diseases of concern. When segregated animals display signs of disease, these measures must be employed.
g. Vaccinate, test and treat as required

Vaccinate and/or test incoming animals early in the segregation period. This should take place after leaving the animals overnight to adjust to their location and before they are introduced to the herd. In some cases you may want this done before the animals are brought on farm, e.g. a condition of sale.

Treat incoming animals for internal and external parasites early in the segregation period. In some areas, such parasites play an important role in the spread of certain vector-borne diseases.

All health vaccines, tests and treatments should be recorded, ideally on an individual animal basis. This information, kept in the Health Log, can also be used to inform subsequent owners.

h. Additional considerations

Additional considerations regarding Incoming Animals:

  • Healthy or highly susceptible animals first: Monitor, feed and handle healthy/young cattle before segregated/sick/old animals. This helps to avoid spreading disease.
  • Introduce together: Cattle that are segregated together should move in to the herd together. This helps to minimize stress and resulting disease.
  • Clean and when necessary disinfect after use: Clean and, when necessary, disinfect segregation facilities after use, including bunks and waterers, especially if a disease has been present.

An all in / all out strategy may work in some scenarios, e.g. smaller feedlots, bull test or backgrounding yards. In larger feedlots, it isn’t practical to fill and empty the entire lot at once. However, a modified all in / all out strategy can be used by penning animals of a particular type and intake date together in the same alleyway or section of pens, and shipping them at the same time. In either case, animals should be left in their purchased groups as much as possible to avoid sorting across pens with different intake dates.

Biosecurity requirements for sick animals are similar to those for segregated animals. Separate facilities for segregation and for sick cattle are important, however, to prevent disease from being transferred to new cattle.

See Target Outcomes 1A.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5 for additional related information.

1A.2. Obtain and share information about commingled animals with previous and future owners

Why Is This Important?

Sharing herd health information benefits producers (including buyers and sellers). Knowing the health history of commingled animals, including the herd that they are coming from, can:

  • avoid / reduce the introduction of disease and other potential health problems to the herd or the incoming animals.
  • ensure that appropriate vaccines or tests are administered and avoid the unnecessary cost of duplication.

It is also helpful to report back and let sellers know of health issues that may have originated under their care and what management changes they may need to make. Ultimately, this benefits the animals through improved health and welfare.

Finally, providing this information as a normal practice can impact buying decisions and protect buyer / seller relationships, which are important in any business.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess the risk

Reviewing the health information that is relevant to incoming cattle can help to identify possible disease risks. These might affect either the incoming animals or the herd they are joining.

b. Health information follows animals

Health information should accompany the movement of all animals that have been commingled. Ideally the information would accompany the movement of all new purchases, particularly breeding stock, although the emphasis is on commingled stock where the health risks are higher.

The information may be offered on all transfers or transactions. If it isn’t offered in the course of the transaction, it should be requested.

Information of benefit to the buyer and animal health and welfare includes: vaccination status, diseases they have been exposed to (disease outbreaks on farm/community pasture), recent treatments for a herd and individual animal.

c. Shipping Records

Ideally this health-related information would be written down for the new owner. A Shipping Record can be useful in this regard, and an example is shown in Schedule 6. Some programs offer web-based tools to share health-related information that may also be helpful to the new owner.

d. Treat for known health risks

Commingled animals that are not accompanied by health information represent a common and difficult issue for producers to evaluate. Many commingling practices are common to the industry and unlikely to change. That said, there is an increased health risk that accompanies commingled animals, because they’ve been exposed to every health risk in the group. Producers can address that risk by treating them for the known health risks of the group in which they were commingled.

Using biosecurity practices in this way enables producers to effectively manage the health risks associated with the common business practice of receiving commingled cattle. The application of biosecurity practices on introduction to feedlots effectively manages the health risks of cattle that are sourced through commingled venues. This has played a significant role in the successful growth of the feedlot sector in the past 20 years. See Target Outcomes 1A.1, 1B.2 and 4.5 for additional related information.

1A.3. Minimize contact with animals of other species and from other operations to the extent possible

Why is this important?

Other animal species (particularly other non-bovine ruminants) may carry diseases that cause minimal to no clinical illness in them, yet significantly impact cattle. For example Bovine malignant catarrhal fever (BMCF) may reside in sheep or goats with minimal impact, yet cause significant health concerns if introduced to cattle.

Cattle in other operations are another risk, as they may have been exposed to a disease not present or managed in the herd. Contact in this case may introduce a disease that is not being managed and against which the herd is not protected. For example, BVD might be managed on one operation, but the disease may be introduced through contact to a herd where the disease is not present or being managed.

Contact with animals in both cases could expose the herd to diseases whose presence the producer is unaware of, whether from:

  • wild or farmed animals; or
  • cattle, ruminants or other species.

Suggested Risk Management Practices

a. Identify and assess the risk

Identify instances or locations where contact of cattle with animals of other species and/or operations is likely or unavoidable, and try to manage the resulting exposure.

Contact the owners of the operations where contact does occur to collaborate on common biosecurity practices, and identify where additional vaccination or other risk management strategies may be warranted.

Discuss the risks of animal contact with professionals, including your veterinarian, and develop risk mitigation strategies.

Maintain fences

Maintain fences in good repair to minimize contact with other operations. Fence-line contact is of considerably less risk than commingling in the same pasture, particularly if other species are involved.

b. Manage grazing and create buffer zones

Create a buffer zone between operations. This can be done using roadways, natural boundaries, including rivers, double fences, and even the use of more resistant animals. For example:

  • Pasture highly susceptible animals furthest from other operations and other species.
  • Coordinate grazing with neighbours to minimize fence-line contact, especially if other species are involved.
  • Allow a fallow period between grazing rotations, particularly if other species are involved.
c. Manage shared pasture and range

If your cattle are pastured with cattle from other operations, there are a number of practices to consider:

  • Obtain health information for the other herds (see 1A.2). Ask the Pasture Manager to provide a copy of vaccination and/or testing requirements. Ensure that commingled herds have similar health status and biosecurity practices.
  • Establish and maintain common biosecurity practices amongst those using the pasture. These may help to avoid a range of diseases, including venereal disease; and utilize a range of practices such as testing and culling for infected bulls, wintering bulls away from cows to avoid re-infection, accepting only virgin heifers or cows with calf at foot.
d. Limit contact with other species

Avoid grazing of different species on the same or adjacent production areas. Producers running herds of two or more species should manage their herds to avoid contact between the species groups.

Where practical, control access to water, feed and minerals by animals of other species or operations.

e. Manage contact with wildlife

Where practical, limit contact with wildlife and pest populations, both of which can transmit certain diseases to and among cattle. While not always possible to accomplish, it is useful to know if contact with other species is occurring and how it occurs. Specific inter-species contacts to be aware of include:

  • deer and elk on feeding grounds or near feed storage areas;

Birds, for example in feedlots, are unlikely to be avoided or controlled to any great extent and, while their role is unknown, they might be a factor in the spread of some diseases.

f. Manage health of other animals and pets on-farm

Apply good biosecurity practices to animals of other species. Biosecurity standards are being developed for other farmed animal species and these provide good guidelines. Working dogs should have current vaccinations and be monitored for disease.

Ensure that pets are current with their vaccinations, monitored for disease and kept out of the Production Area.

g. Additional pointers

Apply strict biosecurity practices to animals and equipment taken offsite for show or rodeo purposes. These animals should be segregated from the herd for the season and monitored / managed to minimize disease transmission. Trailers and equipment used for this purpose can be cleaned out prior to use for other animals.

See Target Outcomes 1A.1, 1A.2, 2.3, 2.6 and 2.7 for additional discussion regarding wildlife and pests.

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