Basic Biosecurity for Horse Farms and Stables

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Many diseases can be avoided simply by using good biosecurity measures around the farm and stable. If a disease outbreak starts, you can reduce the spread by smart management and proper biosecurity.

Farm and stable owners and managers are key personnel to minimize introduction and spread of infectious diseases, said Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky.

Biosecurity

Vaccination is an important safety measure, but it is not 100% effective, Dwyer said. Therefore, farm and stable management should work with their veterinarians and staff to create a biosecurity plan and vaccination program for their farm.

Biosecurity is a set of control measures designed to break the cycle and reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Farm owners need to do what they can to reduce the risk of infectious diseases being introduced and spread on their farm by both humans and horses, Dwyer said. A biosecurity plan should include fly, rodent, bird and pest control and prevention, as well as traffic control on the farm.

Disease Agents of Concern

Common causes of equine disease outbreaks include rotavirus, Salmonella, equine herpesvirus, equine influenza, equine arteritis virus, rhinoviruses, Streptococcus equi and Rhodococcus equi. Of the bacterial and viral pathogens which infect horses, clostridial organisms are some of the most difficult to kill, noted Dwyer.

“Be careful when you read social media–always get information confirmed to avoid panic and misinformation,” Dwyer said.

Biosecurity as a Response to a Sick Horse

According to Dwyer, horses with a nasal discharge, cough, fever or diarrhea should instantly be isolated from other horses and the farm veterinarian consulted. The stalls or barns housing the sick horses should be disinfected.

“Isolate sick, new, and horses returning from a show or event in the barn for approximately two weeks to help reduce the risk of them introducing an infectious disease to the resident horses,” Dwyer said.

Muck out the stalls of sick horses last and avoid spreading the infected manure or bedding on fields. Protective clothing and disposable gloves are helpful to stop the spread of contagious diseases between horses and people, Dwyer said.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Because some of the potential sources of contaminats are traffic between barns and horses, as in the instances of horses returning from racing, showing, veterinary hospitals, etc., traffic control is highly recommended.

“Separate broodmares from competition horses and youngsters to avoid exposure to high-risk horses,” Dwyer said.

Quarantine is another central measure to protect resident horses from horses that have been co-mingled with others at shows, sales, or events off of the farm. 

Pest and rodent control are also part of an efficient biosecurity plan. Reducing standing water means limiting the next generation of flies and mosquitoes, Dwyer said. Feed rooms, tack rooms, and other stable areas should be kept tidy and well-swept. This will help to reduce issues with mice and other rodents.

Human traffic is also a potential risk for spreading disease. Therefore, blacksmiths, trainers, veterinarians and other visitors are advised to disinfect boots and wash hands before entering the barn and handling horses. This can easily be accomplished with an alcohol-based hand disinfectant. Provide running water, liquid hand soap, and clean paper towels in every barn to encourage employees to wash their hands. If running water is not an option, a liquid hand sanitizer can be provided, Dwyer said.

According to Dwyer, sharing equipment such as water buckets and feed tubs might pose a potential risk of spreading pathogens from one horse to another. This is especially important to remember while at horse shows and trail rides. If you do let people borrow equipment, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect that equipment prior to using it on your own horses.

“Work out a plan with your staff and veterinarian that includes frequent cleaning routines. A clean environment always reduces the risk of spreading disease,” Dwyer said.

Detergent and water are needed to thoroughly clean surfaces prior to using a disinfectant. Even the best disinfectant is inactivated in the presence of organic matter, such as manure, discharges and soil. The cleaning step is critical to an effective disinfection program, Dwyer said.

When choosing disinfectants, consult a veterinarian to obtain guidance regarding the effectiveness of various disinfectants in relation to the surfaces to be treated. Disinfectants available on the market include phenols, quarternary ammonium compounds, and peroxygenase compounds

Reprinted from Bluegrass Equine Digest.