Like most things in life there is a fine line between protecting your farm from biosecurity risks and letting people know what you do. Should you gate the entrance of your farm to keep everyone one out or do you invite the general public onto the farm on a regular basis? In addition to the daily grind of dairy farming, every producer needs to ponder the ramifications of these decisions.
I have always been an advocate for opening up the farm to the public. Every year we take calves and cows to fairs and schools so that people can see real animals and we answer any questions that they have. While this is a great start, there is simply no substitute for touring an operating dairy farm. First-hand experience can’t be beat for a true understanding of the dairy farm and all that it entails.
While opening up the farm is a great way to learn about consumer concerns and for consumers to learn about dairy farming, it also has the potential to become a biosecurity risk. These risks include the spread of disease from another farm to yours or people passing viruses on to the animals. In addition, there is always a liability risk of people getting injured or getting sick from the animals.
The first priority on your dairy should always be the health and safety of your animals, but balancing this with informing the public of what you do is also important. The decision to not allow anyone on-farm is understandable, but other options do exist. The Virginia State Dairymen’s Association has made available to dairy producers in the state some biosecurity signs to post at farm entrances. Although this may deter some people from entering the farm, it should be used primarily to make people stop and think before entering and also to provide a contact number in case they cannot find the farm owner. I would recommend using these signs and adhering to some type of protocol for farm visitors. Remind them that this is for their safety AND the safety and wellbeing of the animals.
When anyone enters your farm, you may require as little or as much as possible from them. Some industries actually require a log of any visitors to the farm. We always had a guestbook available to use as a log. This is a more welcome gesture for visitors and years down the road it may come in handy when you are trying to recall who visited your dairy farm. It is also important to have all visitors have sanitized boots or wear plastic boots while at your farm. This not only reduces the spread of disease, but also helps to keep dirt out of vehicles for those who may not want cow manure in their cars. Also, consider a viewing area on your farm where people can see what you are doing, but not have direct access to animals.
While it is important to protect your farm from biosecurity risks, it is equally important to allow some public access to your dairy farms. If you don’t show what you are doing to protect the cows, people, and the environment someone else will be telling your story, and it may not be an accurate one.
Look for Biosecurity: Part 2 in our October issue.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
September 9, 2016