In The News

Buffalo Biosecurity

A vital part of a comprehensive Herd Health Management program

Buffalo are not cattle.  Buffalo should not be managed with a cattle mind-set.  However, something both buffalo and cattle herds need is proper biosecurity.  Biosecurity means doing all you can to prevent the introduction of infectious disease onto your ranching operation. Biosecurity also means being a good and responsible neighbor.  That involves doing everything you can to monitor and control disease on your operation and preventing it from leaving and infecting some other animals, either wild or domestic.

A little history lesson is in order:  Following the United States Civil War, our government developed and enforced a policy of intentional destruction of the American bison.  Along with that decimation came subjugation and forced relocations of Native people, removal of their children to distant boarding schools and “legalized land theft” through enaction of national legislation including the General Allotment Act of 1887 in concert with the Homestead act.  Between 1887 and our present day, these ill-begotten laws were responsible for the loss tribal ownership for over two thirds of their farm and rangelands. This tragedy has caused severe cultural and economic impoverishment of many Great Plains Indian Nations clear up into modern times.

Today the buffalo are still here and so are indigenous native people. The bison are returning!  Indigenous people are celebrating the revival of their culture and their precious way of life and living and eating.  They are buying back the lands that were taken for colonial farmers and their domestic nonindigenous cattle. Our Indian Nations are now establishing new, well-managed buffalo herds.  The land and the soil are healing.  Bison evolved on North America’s grasslands.  Their natural behaviors and interactions with other wildlife species have a uniquely beneficial impact on the landscape.

This all brings me to the point of our lesson:  Today there are new potential infectious disease concerns.  Non-indigenous domestic cattle were originally imported many years ago to the Americas’. They came mostly from Europe, Spain, and the British Isles along with their human immigrant owners.  At that time there was no U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Veterinary Services (VS) program.  This lack of animal and human health oversight was when our indigenous people were exposed to and got exotic foreign human diseases like smallpox and our bison got exotic foreign animal diseases like brucellosis!

That is why biosecurity is still a very important concept today in the successful management of a ranch.  Biosecurity is a vital part of your total herd health management program.  Biosecurity practices reduce the risk of introducing a disease onto your ranch or the risk of spreading disease to neighboring ranches, whether they be cattle or buffalo.

Greatest risks

  1. Global marketplace:  Illegal agricultural imports or travel to other countries where there is a risk of returning with an exotic foreign animal disease.
  2. Comingling or new introductions:  When you purchase new animals, study the herd of origin, and understand the disease risk of what you are getting.  Animal auctions and performance test stations where animals are housed together is common in domestic cattle marketing but is not a good procedure when it comes to bison.  As a rule of thumb, new animals and those that have been exposed or comingled with other animals should be segregated and observed for illness at least 30 days.
  3. Farm visitors: (including veterinarians with a poorly washed and disinfected truck or mobile squeeze chute!) can pose a risk if they’ve been on other farms or recently even in other countries.
  4. Shared ranch equipment: 4-wheelers, side-by-sides, un-washed, un-disinfected livestock hauling trailers are all a risk.

Common Sense Biosecurity Measures:

  1. Keep your distance: Restrict direct access to animals, clean coveralls, and footwear
  2. Keep it clean: Equipment, vehicles, tires, control rodents & some birds
  3. Do not haul disease home: adjacent ranches, zoos, fairs, exhibitions, sales, across-fence contact.
  4. Do not borrow or loan equipment.
  5. Observe your animals on a regular basis and report problems early.
  6. Be on the lookout for signs of disease and ill thrift.
  7. Develop a relationship with a trusted, knowledgeable local veterinarian.
  8. Understand and comply with state and federal animal health requirements.
  9. Autopsy every animal that dies.
  10. Regular disease screening where necessary and recommended.
  11. Keep good records.
  12. Develop sound relationships with other bison and livestock producers.
  13. Attend continuing education meetings.
  14. Be kind, mentor young people, have fun!

by Dr. Don Woerner