Biosecurity screening practices have been established to control infections that cause significant production losses in small ruminant herds. However, it’s still important to be aware of disease presence even if your sheep and goats are backyard pets. Screening for disease reduces the chance of transmission between farms, between animals on the same property, and ensures that consumption of food products from animals is safe. Knowledge of chronic disease status also helps your veterinarian get a head start on the testing and treatment plan, should your animal become sick. Routine biosecurity screening for small ruminants includes Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE, goats) or Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP, sheep), Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), and Johne’s disease. In most cases, a simple blood test is needed for detection. In herds that are producing milk or other food products for personal or commercial consumption, additional testing is recommended for diseases like Q-fever and tuberculosis.
CAE and OPP are caused by a virus that can appear in many forms; pneumonia, arthritis, mastitis, neurologic disease, and severe weight loss. Symptoms are often not noticed until adulthood and unfortunately, there is no cure for CAE and OPP. These viruses are a particularly important consideration for breeding herds, as the most common route of transmission is from mother to offspring. CL is caused by bacteria that results in internal and external abscesses, weight loss, and other symptoms. This bacterium is highly contagious and can be very difficult to get rid of once it’s present in the environment. CL can also be contagious to humans on rare occasions. Johne’s disease is a bacterial infection that leads to weight loss and severe gastrointestinal disease. This disease is also highly contagious and difficult to clear from a herd once introduced. Transmission between animals occurs through environmental contamination (contact with manure, milk, and other excrements). All three of these diseases are difficult if not impossible to treat.
Blood testing for disease is just part of the complete picture when it comes to biosecurity and disease prevention. Other important measures include: keeping a closed herd if possible, maintain good identification and health records for each animal, and be selective about where new animals come from. All new animals or returning animals should be quarantined for a minimum of 3 weeks, observed closely on a daily basis, and separate tools and equipment should be used for their care. It’s also important to remember appropriate disinfection during milking, shearing, and herd health activities. Contact your EquidDoc veterinarian today for a consultation about biosecurity protocols for your herd!