Formulating a biosecurity audit strengthens farm security and identifies weak links that need correcting.

To make a farm biosecurity program work, implement an auditing program that pinpoints weaknesses and ensures that protocols are being followed, says an Illinois swine veterinarian who develops and oversees biosecurity audits.

Audits are necessary because nothing remains static on hog farms. Production procedures change over time and so do employees.

Auditors become like investigators, searching out the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of biosecurity programs, says Doug Groth, DVM, Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service, Ltd.

And remember that “employees are the weakest link” when it comes to biosecurity breaches.

You can devise all of the biosecurity steps you want, but they must be customized to each hog farm in order to be successful. “Your biosecurity can only be as good as your facilities, your manpower and the risk tolerance of what you can and cannot do,” Groth points out.

Capturing Little Details

Farms are scrutinized at least monthly and sometimes twice a month, but it is easy to become “barn blind” to lapses in biosecurity, he says. That's why the Carthage group supplements annual audits with an annual audit performed by an outside third party. Groth says for the past two years, Carthage has used a team led by Jer Geiger, DVM, of PIC who provides a thorough assessment of production farms supervised by Professional Swine Management, the production arm of the Carthage clinic.

Audits can capture the little details sometimes overlooked by farm staff. During one review, Groth watched as an employee wearing a nice pair of clean cowboy boots jumped in and out of a hog cart during pig transfers. When confronted, the employee said he didn't want to wear plastic boots because they were slick. Plus, he thought they were just to protect his footwear, not for pig biosecurity, and nobody had told him any different.

The four-page auditing checklist covers a variety of items that need to be addressed. Groth highlights what he views as a few crucial areas:

Service personnel: When a UPS man gained entrance to a hog barn, walked through a shower area and right into the office, it quickly reminded staff of building biosecurity — making sure outside doors are always locked.

Service trucks may be required to go through a truck wash if not deemed clean enough to deliver supplies to the farm. Checks are also made on their last visit to a hog farm.

Service personnel and vendors, electricians and plumbers are brought in at least annually to review biosecurity practices on farms they service, Groth says. “We go over our pig flow chart and health pyramid so they know the order of farms and the downtimes between them.”

Effort is made to clean tools and equipment that these service providers bring onto farms, or sometimes purchase tools/machines that are frequently used on farms to reduce the biosecurity risk.

Transport vehicles: A big truck wash is being built in the Carthage area to ensure that pig and feed delivery vehicles in particular are properly sanitized between farm visits.

Groth says feed trucks are a special concern. Unless there are dedicated trailers, the health pyramid is followed to minimize contamination. “We have feed delivered to our boar studs and the top of the multiplication system on Monday and the lowest-health commercial herd on Friday.”

Exceptions do occur. There will be a multiplier that needs feed on Friday for whatever reason, and then Groth receives a call to figure out the proper logistics to get the need filled and still protect biosecurity.

Dead pig disposal: Incineration is legal in Illinois but it involves a lot of paperwork. Rising fuel costs also make this a less-attractive option. Burial raises environmental concerns. Rendering sparks biosecurity concerns.

“We have two sow farms that still do some rendering, so we haul the deads off-site in an old milk truck (refrigerated) to a non-pig site about 1-½ miles away from the farm,” Groth says. He calls rendering trucks “a biosecurity nightmare with the bugs and diseases they carry.”

Composting provides the lowest-cost pig disposal option, in his view, and the best biosecurity for a hog farm.

Yearly Report Card

The audit is an internal working document that provides a yearly report card of where farms are at on biosecurity.

Groth says the Carthage group tends to err on the side of safety when it comes to biosecurity, realizing that programs are limited by what can reasonably be accomplished with older farms.

Sometimes guidelines are relaxed if warranted. Some earlier guidelines suggested four-day downtimes for multiplier farms. That was reduced to three days and now is down to two days. No evidence suggests those farms are any more at risk than they were before, he says.

The last part of the audit is similar to a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point in that it asks for corrective action that will be taken based on the root cause of the problems. Root causes listed on the audit form include: inadequate training, lack of supply, equipment, weather, neglect, procedure modification or other.

Inadequate training could be as small an issue as no soap in the showers or as large an issue as no soap to wash the trailers. Both come up big, however, as potential biosecurity lapses.

If the lapse was intentional or due to neglect, it could result in the firing of an employee. Groth recalls two cases in the last two years where that happened. One situation involved an employee stepping outside of a barn to loosen feed stuck in a feed bin and then walking back inside the barn without first showering. The second incident involved an employee who was not showering in to work inside a hog barn.

Biosecurity rules are taught as part of orientation to the job. Producers are trained and worked with to develop the skills they need to do their jobs. But willful neglect and ignoring the rules are not allowed.

“With biosecurity, there is no tolerance. Biosecurity rules are non-negotiable and you will be fired on the spot if they are not followed,” Groth emphasizes.