Biosecurity Basics for Cattle Operations and Good Management Practices (GMP) for Controlling Infectious Diseases

This NebGuide introduces cattle producers to the concept of biosecurity and provides practical management recommendations for preventing and/or containing infectious disease.

Marilyn Buhman, DVM, MS, Beef Cattle Veterinarian
Grant Dewell, DVM, MS, Beef Cattle Veterinarian
Dee Griffin, DVM, MS, Extension Feedlot Veterinarian


The goal of biosecurity is to stop transmission of disease-causing agents by preventing, minimizing or controlling cross-contamination of body fluids (feces, urine, saliva, etc.) between animals, animals to feed and animals to equipment that may directly or indirectly contact animals. Biosecurity management practices are designed to prevent the spread of disease by minimizing the movement of biologic organisms and their vectors (viruses, bacteria, rodents, flies, etc.) onto and within your operation. Biosecurity can be very difficult to maintain because the interrelationships between management, biologic organisms and biosecurity are very complex. While developing and maintaining biosecurity is difficult, it is the cheapest, most effective means of disease control available, and no disease prevention program will work without it.

Infectious diseases can be spread between operations by:

  • the introduction of diseased cattle or healthy cattle incubating disease;
  • introduction of healthy cattle who have recovered from disease but are now carriers;
  • vehicles, equipment, clothing and shoes of visitors or employees who move between herds;
  • contact with inanimate objects that are contaminated with disease organisms;
  • carcasses of dead cattle that have not been disposed of properly;
  • feedstuffs, especially high risk feedstuff which could be contaminated with feces,
  • impure water (surface drainage water, etc.);
  • manure handling and aerosolized manure and dust; and
  • nonlivestock (horses, dogs, cats, wildlife, rodents, birds and insects).

Develop a Biosecurity Resource Group

The first step is to develop a Biosecurity Resource Group/Team. The group should include people important to the success of your operation such as your operation supervisors, veterinarian, nutritionist, extension specialist, suppliers and others who may have special knowledge in control of biologic organisms. Generally beef operations have been open to vehicle traffic and visitors. Of all the possible breakdowns in biosecurity, the introduction of new cattle and traffic pose the greatest risks to cattle health. Properly managing these two factors should be a top priority in your operation. Biosecurity plans should be developed to meet the specific needs of each operation.

Biosecurity has three major components:

  • isolation,
  • traffic control, and
  • sanitation.

When effectively managed these components meet the principle biosecurity objective of preventing or minimizing cross-contamination of body fluids (feces, urine, saliva, respiratory secretions, etc.) between animals, animals to feed and animals to equipment.

Isolation prevents contact between animals within a controlled environment. The most important step in disease control is to minimize commingling and movement of cattle. This includes all new purchases as well as commingling between established groups of cattle. Even in operations that have high cattle turnover, such as feedlots, keeping feeding groups from mixing is an important biosecurity measure. Isolate feedlot hospital cattle and return them to their home pen as soon as possible. Long-acting therapies have improved our ability to minimize movement of infectious organisms between groups. An important biosecurity action on ranches is to separate cattle by age and/or production groups. Facilities should be cleaned and disinfected appropriately between groups. Visit with your veterinarian about specific isolation management procedures and how they can be applied to control targeted diseases.

Traffic control includes traffic onto your operation and traffic patterns within your operation. It is important to understand traffic includes more than vehicles. All animals and people must be considered. Animals other than cattle include dogs, cats, horses, wildlife, rodents and birds. The degree of control will be dictated by the biology and ecology of the infectious organism being addressed, and the control must be equally applied.

Stopping a truck hauling cattle from driving onto your operation as a biosecurity measure for controlling BVD may not be beneficial since the virus is spread from animal to animal. Buying cattle from herds that have a verifiable quality vaccination program would be more important in maximizing biosecurity. However, it would be important for the truck to have been adequately cleaned before hauling the cattle. Traffic control can be built into the facilities design. An example would be placing cattle loading facilities on the perimeter of the operation.

Traffic control within the operation should be designed to stop or minimize contamination of cattle, feed, feed handling equipment and equipment used on cattle. Pit silos should not be accessible from nonfeed handling equipment such as loaders used outside the feeding area or vehicles that travel outside the feed mixing and handling facility. No one (manager, nutritionist, veterinarian, banker — no one) should be allowed to drive onto the surface of a trench silo. The only equipment allowed should be the loader used for handling the feedstuff. In large pits, it may be acceptable to allow feed trucks to enter, provided they are loaded at least 100 feet away from the working face of the stored feed. If possible, separate equipment should be used for handling feedstuffs and manure.

Vehicles and employees should not travel from the dead cattle area without cleaning and disinfecting. The dead animal removal area should be placed in a location that allows rendering trucks access without cross-contaminating healthy cattle. Vehicle cleaning areas are becoming more common in commercial feedlots. Unfortunately they are frequently used only for trucks and heavy equipment. Management should consider extending a decontamination policy to other vehicles (especially tires) that are used across biosecurity control areas on the operation. Ask your biosecurity resource team to help you evaluate traffic control on your operation.

Sanitation addresses the disinfection of materials, people and equipment entering the operation and the cleanliness of the people and equipment on the operation.

The main objective of sanitation is to prevent fecal contaminates from entering the oral cavity of cattle (fecal - oral cross contamination). Equipment used which may contact cattle’s oral cavity or cattle feed should be a special target. The first step in sanitation is to remove organic matter, especially feces. Blood, saliva, and urine from sick or dead cattle should also be targeted. All equipment that handles feed or is introduced into the mouth of cattle should be cleaned, including disinfection as appropriate, before use. Loaders used for manure or dead cattle handling must be cleaned thoroughly before using for feedstuff. It would be best to use different equipment. Minimize the use of oral equipment and instruments such as balling guns, drench equipment and tubes. If used at processing and treatment, thoroughly clean and disinfect between animals. Store cleaned equipment in clean, dry areas. Avoid storage in tanks or containers containing disinfectants because most disinfectants are neutralized by organic material. Disease transmission is commonly traced to the use of those storage tanks.

Specific Biosecurity Information is Important

For more detailed and specific information about applying biosecurity principles to your operation, contact your veterinarian or Cooperative Extension specialist.

GMP for Controlling Infectious Diseases

Develop a biosecurity plan and commit to its implementation. Committing to a biosecurity plan is a vital step toward controlling of infectious disease. Keeping pathogens out of a herd improves production efficiency, lowers costs and reduces risks to employees and family.

Biosecurity GMP Checklists

Review the checklists below and discuss each item with your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian to rank the biosecurity importance of each item (0=not important, 5= very important). Check Y (yes) or N (no) if the biosecurity item is being addressed.

General Good Management Practice (GMP) Checklist

The following
Biosecurity GMP Checklist is also available in a more easily printable PDF file. (Adobe Acrobat, which can be downloaded free from Adobe, is required for reading PDFs.)

Notes Rank importance of each GMPs in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Meet all of the Beef Quality Assurance Good Management Practices and Guidelines.
____________ Understand it is more profitable to prevent problems than to correct problems.
____________ Agree that doing things right the first time is a critical part of biosecurity.
____________ Biosecurity requires some method of cattle identification. An identification system in place.
____________ Can readily track and validate management practices used on my cattle.

GMP Checklist for Sanitation

Notes Rank importance of each sanitation measure in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Attempt to prevent manure contamination of feed and equipment used orally.
____________ Clean equipment used orally between animals.
____________ Attempt to prevent cross contamination between healthy and sick/dead cattle.
____________ Regularly evaluate the activities on my operation to assess the potential for contaminating cattle.
____________ If manure accidentally contaminates feed or water, an immediate remedy is provided.

GMP Checklist for Equipment

Notes Rank importance of each equipment item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Use different equipment to feed and to clean pens or completely clean between use.
____________ Never step in the feed bunk.
____________ Never leave manure-hauling equipment in pens with different groups of animals.
____________ Clean contaminated vehicles and equipment before use around healthy cattle.
____________ Routinely clean and disinfect feeding equipment and cattle handling equipment.
____________ Routinely clean and disinfect equipment used to medicate cattle.

GMP Checklist for Disease Containment

Notes Rank importance of each disease containment item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Facilities provide a clean area for restraint, treatment and isolation of sick cattle.
____________ Facilities prevent cross contamination of water, manure, feed, or equipment between groups.
____________ Have a plan to manage group size, age distribution, and animal flow to reduce risk of disease.
____________ Handle highest health status animals first (young calves, healthy older cattle and sick animals last).
____________ Everyone uses strict sanitation practices
____________ All animals that die are examined by a veterinarian (necropsy).
____________ Veterinarian collects blood samples from all cows that abort.
____________ Have visitors observe our strict sanitation practices.
____________ Clean contaminated vehicles and equipment before use around healthy cattle.

GMP Checklist for Preventing Infectious Disease from Entering All Operations

Notes Rank importance of each disease entry item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Know the health history of the herds from which cattle are purchased.
____________ Know the health status of animals brought into my operation.
____________ My veterinarian talks to the seller’s veterinarian prior to buying animals.
____________ Never bring in animals without knowing their vaccination history.
____________ Never buy animals from a herd that has mixed origin cattle.
____________ Transport animals in clean vehicles.
____________ Have a control program for outside animals which could spread disease (rodents, etc.).
____________ Loading area is located at the perimeter of the operation.
____________ Dead animal pickup area located so rendering trucks do not contaminate my operation.
____________ Limit people’s access to my cattle pens, feed mixing and storage area, and treatment area.
____________ Keep a record of visitors to my operation.

GMP Checklist for Preventing Infectious Disease from Entering Cow/Calf Operations

Notes Rank importance of each disease entry item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Cattle don’t use community pastures, or are not placed in performance evaluation centers.
____________ Cattle do not share fence lines with neighbor’s cattle.
____________ Do not purchase, borrow, or use loaner bulls from other farms.
____________ Buy cattle from a Johne’s certified free farm.
____________ Limit purchases to open heifers and virgin bulls.
____________ Know the biosecurity, vaccination, and testing program of herd(s) for my replacement cattle.
____________ Quarantine new arrivals for 21-30 days before allowing them contact with my cattle.
____________ Quarantined area is designed to prevent cross contamination between cattle.

GMP Checklist for Calf Management

Notes Rank importance of each calf management item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Have a strategic vaccination and parasite control plan in place for all cows.
____________ Replacement cattle are kept off pastures where manure has been spread for six months.
____________ Replacement cattle are kept separate from other cattle for at least six months.
____________ Replacement cattle have a separate source of water.
____________ Consult with veterinarian annually about calf care.
____________ Calving area is clean and disinfected.
____________ All calves are born from cows that have been tested clean of infectious diseases.
____________ All colostrum fed to calves comes from cows that have been tested clean of infectious diseases.
____________ Calves are permanently identified prior to any grouping.

GMP Checklist for Strategic Vaccine Use

Notes Rank importance of each strategic vaccine item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Have a written strategic vaccination plan for my operation.
____________ Know when and how to use the vaccines listed in the vaccination plan for my herd.
____________ Discuss the vaccination history of all cattle purchased before the cattle enter my operation.

GMP Checklist for controlling Johne’s
(M. paratuberculosis)Disease

Notes Rank importance of each Johne’s control item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Understand how Johne’s disease can impact my herd and how it is spread.
____________ Whole herd is screened using an antibody ELISA test (measures antibody in blood).
____________ Whole herd is tested using a fecal culture.
____________ Animals testing positive are culled. (Johne’s is reportable disease in some states.)
____________ Replacement heifers are tested prior to introduction to the herd.
____________ Calves from cows testing positive are removed to a feedlot.
____________ Have implemented a follow-up Johne’s testing program and reviewed the results with my vet.

GMP Checklist for controlling Bovine Leukosis

Notes Rank importance of each Leukosis control item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Are needles and sleeves used on more than one animal?
____________ Are cows which provide colostrum for your calves tested for bovine leukosis?
____________ Purchased cattle are tested during quarantine.

GMP Checklist for controlling
Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD)

Notes Rank importance of each BVD control item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Understand "persistently infected" (PI) animals as they relate to BVD.
____________ Am not willing to live with one or more PI calves in my herd.
____________ Am not willing to keep a PI calf as a replacement heifer.
____________ Am committed to finding BVD PI cattle and removing them from herd.
____________ Have discussed killed versus modified live virus (MLV) vaccines for BVD with my veterinarian.

GMP Checklist for controlling Salmonella

Notes Rank importance of each Salmonella control item in biosecurity and note if being addressed:
____________ Realize that my family and employees can be infected with salmonella from cattle.
____________ Isolate sick cattle in hospital area and prevent cross contamination.
____________ Discuss proper antibiotic use with my veterinarian.
____________ Clean all instruments and equipment used on sick cattle between cattle.
____________ Provide dry, clean, disinfected calf and maternity pens.
____________ Test purchased feed for salmonella once per year.
____________ Restrict birds, cats, rodents and stray animals from access to my operation’s animal feed and water.
____________ Do not allow rendering trucks to access feed or animal areas.


  • Carlson, K. R., Biosecurity — Profit for the Taking!, Good Management Practices for Controlling Infectious Diseases, Dairy Today Supplement, Agri-education, Inc. Dairy Quality Assurance Center. 1998.
  • Howard, J. and Smith, R.A., Current Veterinary Therapy: Food Animals, 4th Ed. Saunders, 1998.
  • Jeffrey, J.S., Biosecurity for Poultry Flocks, Extension Poultry Veterinarian, University of California-Davis. 1997.
  • McFarlane, A., A Briefing on Biosecurity Procedures. Prairie Swine Centre Inc. 1999.
  • Smith, B.P., Large Animal Internal Medicine. Mosby, 1990.
  • Spencer, J., Development of composting and management strategies for elimination of animal pathogens and assay systems to monitor effectiveness, Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 1996.
  • Wallace, R.L., Consider Biosecurity Steps When Expanding Herd. University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine. 1996.

Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Extension Publications Web site for more publications.
Index: Animal Diseases
General Livestock
2000, Revised December 2007