Visitor – Do you pose a risk?

The horse is a magnificent animal.  Many are as social as any dog, loving attention, and giving as much as they get.  One of the few prey animals capable of being trained to allow a predator to ride on it’s back, these beautiful creatures like nothing more than to please those around them.  The problem with their nature is, their desire to please and show affection can kill them.  The farm biosecurity plan may be the one thing we can do for our horses that, beyond all other precautions we take, keeps them alive and healthy.

Beyond quarantine, and vaccination and no touch at show policies, we must consider the most common interaction horses have with humans, outside of their interaction with their owners.  Visitors!

How many people take visitors for granted when it comes to their horses’ health?  Visitors comprising of:

  1. Neighbours and friends,
  2. Agribusiness and other contractors
  3. Farriers
  4. Veterinarians
  5. deadstock collectors
  6. Manure removal personel

can be just as dangerous to our animals as bringing in a new animal.  The most dangerous being contractors or persons who visit many farms on a daily basis, such as farriers and veterinarians.  Any veterinarian or farrier who visits multiple facilities on a daily basis will have clean coveralls, boot covers and gloves to wear at each location, lessening the chance of spreading disease encountered at other facilities.

But what about friends and neighbours?  Sure, many of them may not visit any farm prior to visiting yours, some may, or may even live on a farm themselves.

A good visitors policy can help lessen the risk of animals being exposed to disease possibly brought in by visitors or contractors.  This article explains steps that can be taken to create a good visitor policy to work in conjunction the rest of your biosecurity measures.

These are my friends and my responsibility

These are my friends and my responsibility

Control starts at the gate: ((Biosecurity Fundamentals For Visitors To Livestock Facilities, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and food – Factsheet))

Unlike large show facilities, most farms have very few access points.  The first step to limiting the spread of disease by visitors is to limit the ability for disease to enter your farm and be out of your control.

  • Having a single entrance/exit is the first step so visitors can’t sneak up on you and by-pass the controls contained below.
  • Have signage on the main gate detailing the level of biosecurity in effect at the facility.
  • If you have quarantined animals, clearly mark the quarantine stalls or pens, and do not allow visitors who have no need to be near the animals to approach them
  • Ensure visitor parking is away from the areas travelled by farm machinery, horses, and other equipment movement specific to the operation.
    • Visitor vehicles may contain manure trace from other farms the vehicle has been to.
    • The more limited visitors vehicles are when moving around the farm, the less likely they are to have a collision with farm equipment or animals
  • Have signs directing visitors to a reception area.
  • Have a sign in log for ALL visitors, which includes date, arrival and departure times, even for those who own livestock at the facility.
    • How many of the visitors work at other farm operations?
    • How many of your boarders have livestock at another location
    • Insist on asking if the visitor has been to any other facility that day
      • If there is a breakout, it would be nice to trace the origin
  • Provide a location where visitors can wash their hands prior to being allowed in areas where animals are located
    • Insist on clean clothing and footwear at your facility
  • Provide a location where veterinarians, farriers and contractors can put on coveralls, quarantine boots, or boot covers
  • Restrict access to animal pens if entrance to pens is not necessary
  • Establish a look but don’t touch policy for the animals.
    • Horses are very social but haven’t got a care in the world when it comes to considering what may make them sick.  Touching their noses, mouths, even their skin can create a chain for contamination or infection to spread
    • Especially establish a no face to face contact rule if a visitor has been at another livestock operation within previous 24-48 hours.  That breath sharing could kill your horse.
    • Viruses and bacteria are invisible.  Human carriers won’t even know they are carrying potentially deadly diseases to your animals, such as Equine Infectious Anemia.  Since there are very few noticeable symptoms, they may have been in contact with a contaminated horse and not even know it.
  • Insist on visitors washing their hands or using anti-bacterial hand sanitizer prior to and after being around your animals and before leaving the facility
  • Provide a boot bath for cleaning footwear after being in contact with a quarantined animal.
    • Change the water and disinfectant as often as necessary
    • Keep in mind that a boot bath in itself is not enough to ensure all trace of virus or bacteria has been removed

It is very unlikely all visitors to your facility are going to pose the same risk to your herd.  For instance, people coming for a riding lesson, or just to visit your family, are very unlikely to have had the same contact with diseased animals as, for instance, veterinarians or farriers have had.  It isn’t unreasonable, when protecting your animals’ health to assess the level of risk each visitor poses.  This chart, provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food gives a basic idea how to assess risks presented by visitors:

Low Risk Moderate Risk High Risk
Number of farm visits per day No other farm contact One or occasionally more than one farm per day Routinely visits many farms or auctions
Protective Clothing Wears sanitized shoes or boots. One pair of clean coveralls per site Wears sanitized shoes or boots – If clean, may not change coveralls Does not wear clean or protective clothing
Animal Ownership Does not own and/or care for livestock Owns and/or cares for a different species Owns and/or cares for a similar species and production type
Contact with animals No animal contact Minimal or no direct contact – exposure to housing facilities Regular direct contact with animals
Biosecurity knowledge Understands and promotes biosecurity for industry Aware of basic biosecurity principles but is not an advocate Little appreciation or understanding of biosecurity principles
Foreign travel Does not travel out of Canada Limited travel outside of Canada without animal contact Travel to foreign countries with animal contact in those countries

While visitors enjoy seeing horse, and horses, for the most part, enjoy seeing visitors, second only to new animals arriving at the facility, visitors are a great transporter of possible disease.  Following the above safety and biosecurity steps can greatly reduce the spread of disease from one herd to another, thereby lowering the risk factors involved with your herd or animal becoming ill.  Once again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It’s All About The Horses!!


Suggested Reading:

Equine Biosecurity Principles and Best Practices – Alberta

Horse Biosecurity Guidebook – Saskatchewan