Biosecurity

Barney McClung, The Wool & Flax Llama Farm

Farm and Home Biosecurity

The purpose of this web page is to provide information on how the typical camelid owner can strengthen their biosecurity posture and protect themselves and their animals from bio-attacks.

Your llamas and alpacas are relatively safe at home on the farm.  Animals develop resistance or immunity to the bugs and diseases normally present in the environment and their usual feed.  It’s when they become exposed to the outside world that we might have a problem.

Biosecurity is protecting your herd from those outside influences.  Improving the biosecurity of your operation is relatively inexpensive, but it requires a large investment in changing everyday habits.

Why Should I Be Concerned?

Browsing through the internet you will find lots of information on bioterrorism and if you where a dairy farmer you might have something to be concerned about.  Food producers are certainly in the possible realm of terrorist targets, but llama farmers?  The chance of a llama or alpaca farm being the target of terrorist (even from the survivalists down the road) is pretty slim.  So why do you need to worry?

Your biggest threat is from your own animals.  Many of us bought llamas or alpacas because we like doing things with them; parades, hikes, visits to local schools or competing on the show circuit, in other words getting out in public with our animals.  It is precisely at such events that we can put our whole herd at risk.

A recent example of this risk is illustrated by the May 2011 outbreak of EHV-1 in a group of cutting horses participating at a show in Utah.  Champion horses from all over the western states met at the show in April and many contracted EHV-1 (a serious herpes virus).  This virus requires direct contact between animals or between animal and handler to spread.  None of the infected horses exhibited any signs of the disease for a couple of weeks.  Most of these horses had been turned out into the home herd when they returned which resulted in home herd members being exposed and contracting the virus.  Some of these home herd members had to be put down, even though they had never left the ranch!

Llamas and alpacas are susceptible to EHV-1 infections, but are unlikely to contract the disease from horses, so our herds are relatively safe from this outbreak, but what about more common llama and alpaca diseases?  How safe is your home herd from diseases your own animals may bring back from a show?  The sad truth is that your regular show animals may have developed enough immunity from repeated exposures that they may never show any symptoms, but could easily infect their home herd mates.

What Can You Do?

You can segregate the animals that usually remain on the ranch.  Because of their isolation they are most venerable to outside diseases.  The members of your herd that frequent llama shows, parades or that you enjoy packing with should be quarantined on a separate section of your farm for at least three weeks every time they return home. 

Having fully separate facilities and equipment is ideal, but let’s face it that is not usually feasible.  Using common sense you can design an inexpensive system to keep your home herd safe.  You can rely on a strict handling regime that insures that all people, equipment and vehicles used in the quarantined areas are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before entering the main or “home herd” area.  Without a well devised plan, this cleaning and disinfecting can soon become tedious and it won’t get done on a consistent basis. 

For the purpose of this article I’m going to assume that you do not have the resources to duplicate facilities, equipment and vehicles.

Areas of Concern

Feeding

Provide separate entries into your hay storage barn.  One dedicated to the quarantined area (this is usually simple because this can also be the section open to visitors, vendors, hay deliveries and the outside world) and a separate entry for the home herd.  At a minimum you should have separate feeding carts or soon the chore of cleaning the cart before feeding the home herd will become tedious and then it won’t get done.  Grain buckets, water buckets, salt licks and the like should be kept separate.  Many of these items are available in a rainbow of colors, so color-coding the equipment can be done easily. 

Items can be used between the quarantined and home herds IF care is taken to fully clean and disinfect FIRST.  You can disinfect with regular dish detergent, but you need to wait 48 hours before using the item after cleaning.

Manure Collection

Mishandling of manure is one of the most common methods of cross-contaminating a herd.  Keeping the equipment used for cleanup completely separate is important.  How the work progresses from pasture to pasture and area to area is equally important.  The home herd area must be cleaned first followed by the less secure areas ending with the quarantine area saved for last.  Any equipment shared between the different areas MUST be disinfected before being re-introduced into the home herd areas.

Visitors

Llama and alpaca ranches tend to attract a lot of visitors.  This is especially true if you are breeding and selling your animals.  Who gets in, who stays out and who need to take extra precautions?  Veterinarians and other visitors who have regular contact with animals on other farms have the greatest potential to introduce something unwanted to your home herd.  Keep extra boots, boot covers, coveralls, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant available for their use.  Whenever possible, bring the animal out to your vet or potential buyer.  Employees, especially manure scoopers, need to have boots and coveralls that they wear only on your ranch.  Make sure they clean and disinfect boots after each visit.  Keep a visitor’s log and do not allow visitors who have been out of the country in the last two weeks to interact with your llamas or alpacas.

Is That All?

Let your favorite web browser do some searches on biosecurity and you’ll be amazed at all of the information available, but I wanted to keep this simple.  The easiest program to use has the best chance of being successful.  Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals and in my experience they seem to have well developed immune systems.  Like most owners I’ve been a bit lax in my biosecurity regime.  To be honest, if it’s not easy, it’s not going to happen!  But I have a significant investment in time, money and emotional attachment with my llamas. A serious outbreak would be devastating.

Buying a couple of carts and an extra shovel are affordable solutions.  Changing the path I take when feeding and harvesting manure may take adding or moving some gates and maybe extending a cross-fence, but it’s not prohibitively expensive.   

So tonight, gather the usual suspects, sit down and spend some time discussing what simple changes you can make in your everyday operations that will improve your biosecurity.  You’ll find if you make some immediate changes, talk about how those are working a few days from now, make the necessary adjustments and talk some more, that your biosecurity program will be well on its way to protecting your herd.  All without breaking the bank!

May 2011