Biosecurity is a set of preventative measures designed to reduce the risks of infectious disease transmission to and among livestock. It means doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease being carried onto your farm/property by people, animals, equipment or vehicles. Biosecurity is a key part of raising livestock, and most people who are raising other animals take biosecurity really seriously. In the beekeeping world, while we often talk about disease treatments, we rarely discuss biosecurity, and almost no one has detailed biosecurity plans for their beekeeping operations. The topic of biosecurity wasn’t really on my radar either, until I started to work with veterinarians, and we started to compare disease management between bees and other livestock. The more we talked, the more I realized how many bees and beekeepers could benefit if more beekeepers had biosecurity plans and incorporated biosecurity principles.
Last winter, I was invited by the University of Hawaii Extension to train veterinarians through hands-on bee clinics at multiple farms around the state. As employees of the Department of Ag and University Extension, we wanted to make sure that we could not be the cause of bringing disease to these host farms, so we followed strict biosecurity guidelines. I was asked not to bring any beekeeping equipment whatsoever from the mainland, and when I arrived at each location, the tires of our vehicle were sprayed with disinfectant prior to even entering the property. Before I opened my car door, I was handed booties so the soles of my work boots would never touch the ground. I wore nitrile gloves, and used only tools that were already present in the yard. We were practicing good biosecurity measures to minimize the chance of disease introduction. I thought about how many times beekeepers have shown up to a class with dirty suits, tools, and boots, and no discussion at all about disease introduction.
I also raise pigs, and I have learned a lot about biosecurity from the swine professionals at Michigan State University. When I get my feeder pigs from the breeding facility, there are clear signs directing me where to go, keeping me off most of the farm, and far away from the breeder sows. Doors are locked to visitors, and all employees go through a thorough shower in/shower out process every day. The facility takes great care not to introduce new pathogens to the herd, because they know how quickly a disease can spread through animals in close contact. I can compare this to people who purchase queens, driving directly from their bee yard to the queen producer, and going right back into the hives, with no consideration on either farm about when and where they are contacting bees.
Some beekeepers may practice excellent biosecurity, but most beekeepers do not give biosecurity and disease prevention the same level of planning and attention as many other types of livestock operations. Granted, there are many differences between beekeeping operations and other livestock. No other livestock is as mobile, crisscrossing around the country, and no other livestock intermingles as much (could you image if cattle drifted or robbed other yards?!). However, these characteristics of the apiculture industry are all the more reason that beekeepers need to be extra vigilant about biosecurity.
Biosecurity is a set of everyday methods/practices/protocols that will prevent or greatly reduce the introduction of diseases or pests to farm animals (external biosecurity), and also to contain the spread of any disease between farm animals (biocontainment). Beekeepers should develop a set of methods/practices/protocols to prevent the spread of disease at multiple levels:
- Prevent pests and diseases from coming into our yards or operations.
- Prevent the spread of pests and diseases from hive to hive.
- Prevent the spread of pests and diseases from yard to yard.
- Prevent the spread of pests and diseases from our operation to other operations.
A good beekeeper should have a set of preventative measures designed to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of pests or diseases in bees and they should have a plan to minimize the impact of pests and diseases on their bees and on other beekeepers.
You may view a biosecurity plan as a lot of extra work and cost. However, good biosecurity can easily save you money in the long run. Biological pests and pathogens are incredibly costly to beekeepers, and can result in extremely large, but often unaccounted for expenses to many beekeeping operations. Everyone knows that a healthy colony will make much more honey than a diseased colony, yet very few beekeepers actually account for the cost of diseased-caused crop loss in their balance sheets. How much money did you lose because your colony had EFB all summer? How much time did your bees spend pulling out diseased brood and hive beetle larvae instead of making honey? How much did it cost you to drive to your bee yard an extra time to apply a treatment? Most beekeepers do not know the economic impacts of disease on their operation. Not only do diseases and pests cause loss in honey yields, but they also cause damage to or loss of equipment, increased labor costs, treatment costs, and loss of bees. When honey prices are low and pollination contracts can fluctuate, it is essential that beekeepers examine their operations to ensure that they are minimizing their losses from disease.
It is not enough to just think about disease risk. A good biosecurity plan should include all partners and employees, it should be written down, and it should be reviewed and updated every year. You should structure your plan to include everyday practices as well as protocols in the case of an outbreak or an emergency. The Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture program (https://www.healthyagriculture.org/) has many resources to help you understand the basic aspects of biosecurity. They provide the following tips:
- Remember, planning is a process. Start where you are now.
- Implement a few important things first; add more later.
- Determine what will or will not fit in the daily routine.
- Plan ahead with protocols that everyone on the farm and visitors will need to follow if an outbreak occurs.
- Include a process for observing and monitoring herd health, and for reporting unusual or suspicious signs.
- Be sure to communicate to employees and visitors about your biosecurity protocols and how they can comply.
What should a plan include?
The first step is to evaluate your risk. Think about both pests and pathogens. Consider where disease can enter your operation: purchased equipment, robbing bees, contaminated extraction facilities, or on the tools or hands of visitors. Also consider how easy it is for disease to ….