Biosecurity and Your Horse
Posted: February 21, 2011
Why biosecurity? The bottom line of this concept is prevention; simple routines and conscientious procedures that safeguard your horse against a potentially fatal disease. Designing a biosecurity plan to fit your equine operation will save money, help ensure the health of your animals, and maximize the safety of clients, employees, and visitors.
Implementing biosecurity procedures on a farm will help reduce the exposure of horses to disease. Biosecurity includes establishing a preventative health-care program that includes practicing strategic vaccination and deworming and keeping thorough health records. Biosecurity also includes knowing how diseases can be spread via the environment and via contact with people, animals, and equipment.
Your day-to-day routines will be the most important component of your biosecurity plan. Establishing sanitation and hygiene standards and paying attention to problem areas of the farm are the basis of a sound plan.
- Horses should be housed in a clean environment.
- Manure should be removed from stalls daily, and small paddocks should be picked out at least weekly.
- Housing should provide good ventilation. Horses can develop respiratory problems when housed in humid and dusty stalls. Air flow should be comfortable and free from excessive ammonia.
- Fresh clean water should be available at all times.
- Horses should be fed off of the ground to avoid parasite and sand ingestion. Feeders should be kept clean of dirt and mold.
- Food storage bins, equipment, and feed and water buckets should be routinely checked and cleaned.
Infectious organisms can also be shed in a horse’s manure. Thus manure should be handled as a potentially infectious material, especially when there is a disease outbreak. Manure piles should be kept away from where horses are housed and pastured. Fresh manure should not be spread on pastures that are occupied by horses. Stall cleaning tools, including manure picks, rakes, pitch- forks, and wheelbarrows should be used for quarantined areas of the farm. Composting manure will kill off many infectious organisms that might spread infection. If manure is not composted, it should either be spread in an area that is off limits to horses or be removed from the farm.
Some pathogens can be spread through shared equipment. Grooming supplies and tack should not be shared from horse to horse. At the very least, horses should have their own brushes and saddle pads. If tack is to be shared between horses, it should be cleaned after each use with soapy water to remove sweat and potential mucus from the leather and bit. If a horse has a known skin ailment or infection, then all equipment used by the infected horse should be thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant such as a diluted bleach solution. For animals that travel to shows or events, it’s best to bring your own equipment when possible, and avoid shared feed/water buckets.
Disinfection, as a precaution or in response to a disease outbreak, should be carried out on pre-cleaned surfaces (they’ll kill more germs that way) and should always be handled with care, according to labeled instructions. Whether disinfecting stalls, equipment, or vehicles, the following steps and safety precautions should be followed:
- Remove all equipment from the area (feeders, etc).
- Remove as much surface dirt, manure, and debris by sweeping or brushing.
- Clean the area thoroughly with a detergent to remove manure, dirt, and debris.
- Apply disinfectant to clean, dry surfaces and allow thorough time to dry.
Disinfectants need adequate contact time to be effective. Be sure to follow directions and allow adequate drying time before introducing new animals. Exposure to sunlight is a natural disinfectant for many organisms. After disinfecting buckets and equipment, let them dry in the sun.
Horses can carry infectious organisms in their body fluids. Any secretion can potentially harbor an infectious organism. Saliva and nasal discharges can be passed from horse to horse by direct contact (including over the fence) as well as by indirect contact through shared housing (walls and fence posts) and shared feed and water containers. Horses can also spread infectious disease through their hooves and nasal passages. In fact, horses can harbor infectious organisms that, while not harmful to equine, can infect other livestock species.
Quarantine: New and Returning Animals
New additions to the barn can put your other horses at risk. New horses, whether they’re recent acquisitions or horses returning from shows, should always be quarantined from the rest of the herd for several weeks. Likewise, you should always know the history of any animal coming onto your property; if you have any concerns, it’s wise to have your vet check the new horse out.
Ideally, the horse should be housed in a separate barn or pasture where no nose-to-nose contact can be made with resident equine. In addition, horses in quarantine should not share water or feed bins with other horses. Manure from their paddocks and stalls should be taken to an isolated area so as not to come into contact with other farm animals. Caretakers should change clothes after caring for quarantined horses.
Quarantine: Sick Animals
As soon as a horse is symptomatic or is recognized as a potential disease carrier, it should be isolated from other horses. The same person should treat the sick horses each day. If that person is responsible for caring for other horses, treatments should be scheduled after the other horses have been cared for to limit the spread of disease by the caretaker. Once a horse is no longer sick, the stall will need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. In addition, any water container, any feed bin, and all floor and walls where the sick horse was housed should be completely disinfected.
A horse’s exposure to disease greatly increases with travel. Exposure to outside horses creates great potential for disease contamination. Just the process of traveling, especially long distances, and the stress of adjusting to a new place can make a horse more susceptible to infection. To reduce the risk of infection for horses when traveling, the following steps should be applied:
- Make sure your horses are up-to-date on all vaccinations and flu shots.
- Bring your own food and water containers. Don’t let a horse drink or eat from shared water or feed.
- Stop to give your horses a drink every 2 – 3 hours, more frequently during hot and humid weather.
- On long trips, stop and let your horses rest every 8 hours. At this time, evaluate your horses for hydration and take their temperature.
- House your horses away from other livestock and high-traffic areas.
Resident horses that have traveled and been exposed to outside horses should be treated similarly to new arrivals when they come back to the farm. Horses that travel off the farm (to horse shows, breeding or training facilities, and group trail rides) can bring infectious disease back to the farm. They should be housed away from broodmares and young horses that are at a greater risk of contracting infectious disease. If a separate quarantine area is not possible, try at least to house new arrivals at one end of the barn. They must be kept separate from broodmares and young horses.
Protocol for Visitors
Human traffic on and off the farm is a prime source for transmitting infectious disease. Some general guidelines for prevention include keeping a visitor log, providing hand-washing stations, and maintaining a single, entrance/exit.
Visitors who have not had any contact with other livestock are at a low risk for bringing infectious organisms to the farm. However, they could still spread disease from barn-to-barn on the farm. When giving farm tours, you should always start the tour with the young horses and broodmares and then move to the rest of the farm, thus limiting exposure to your most susceptible stock.
If someone is coming from another horse farm and handles horses, they are at a high risk of spreading infectious diseases. If there is concern about a potential outbreak, you can ask them to shower and change shoes prior to coming onto your farm.
All visitors should wash their hands and dip their feet in a foot bath prior to touring the farm. It is also a good idea to ask visitors not to pet or feed horses,
Wildlife species act as hosts for infectious disease and can also cause damage to your barn. Rodents, birds, and other wildlife can spread infectious disease. Usually disease is spread by feces contamination in the horses’ feed. It is important to keep hay and grain secure from other animals. In addition to securing the feed room from unwanted wildlife, you also need to inspect the farm for likely wildlife homes. Deadwood piles and weed and brush growth are ideal habitats for many wild animals. Be sure to clean your stable area and pastures of debris and overgrowth.
Biting insects are also carriers for blood-transmitted diseases like West Nile Virus and Equine Infectious Anemia. Practicing fly and mosquito control involves:
- Eliminating standing water around the farm.
- Applying bug repellent to horses.
- Installing automatic repellents in barn alleyways and stalls.
- Using fly sheets and hoods on horses to protect against biting insects.
- Keeping horses inside during dusk hours when flying insects are at their most active.
- Considering using complimentary bugs as a natural way to eliminate harmful insects.
- Hanging bug strips in barn alleyways.
Lastly, it’s important to minimize toxic plant consumption by becoming familiar with common toxic plants in the area, what they look like, and in what season they are likely to be present. You should monitor which plants are growing in your pastures and also monitor hay for quality.
Every farm, no matter the size, should implement biosecurity practices in their day-to-day management schemes. Having a preventive health plan, keeping the farm clean, and isolating new and sick horses are critical to slowing down the spread of disease. Biosecurity doesn’t stop at home; it also includes protecting your horses when traveling to other farms or horse events.