Putting herd health protocols into action

By: Pharmgate Animal Health

How confident are you that your biosecurity protocols are executed accurately? How do you know? No matter how good the written protocol, it won’t work to protect pigs if the steps aren’t executed in the barn, at the truck wash or on the road between farms.

Dr. Jerome Geiger, health assurance veterinarian with Pig Improvement Company (PIC), says the devil’s in the details when it comes to implementing biosecurity protocols.

“You have to have a written protocol, but a big part of the protocol is its successful implementation,” he says. “When the rubber meets the road, ask yourself, ‘what is actually happening at the farm level? How well are protocols being followed?’”

Geiger outlines four strategies you can use to ensure your protocols work as well in real life as they do on paper.

#1 Develop the written plan

The most important aspect of creating a written plan is making it realistic, Geiger explains.

“Your team must balance expected outcomes on paper with what can reasonably and practically be executed on your operation,” he adds. “Protocols must be based on insight and experience of the true process at the farm level to cover all the details and be executable.”

For example, one person writes a protocol for washing a room or a truck with the goal of reducing contamination. One or more different individuals are responsible for executing the protocol. If the individuals who execute the plan have never washed a room or truck and are not taught carefully how to do so, the written plan must include specific and prioritized steps to make the plan realistic.

#2 Educate the team

 Geiger says the biggest area he sees people struggle with is not knowing what the expectations are, which can lead to inconsistency in the execution of protocols.

“The top-level owners and managers typically have a broad focus on doing everything in their power to prevent pigs from getting sick and a clear vision of what they expect,” he says. “But as you go down the through the management structure, you might find individuals who do not understand the expectation.”

Most communication breakdowns are from either time pressures or a lack of understanding. It’s important to convey all the way through the organization a mindset of biosecurity and the implications and risks involved. To help create a cultural mindset of biosecurity, explain why you do things a certain way and how ignoring those steps can be like ignoring a red light on the road.

 #3 Execute protocols

“What’s written on paper isn’t always what’s being executed day-to-day,” says Geiger. “It’s important to reconcile what’s really happening with the different expectations and experiences at every level of the operation.”

Geiger helps farms understand what’s truly being implemented through system audits. He walks through each layer of the process at the different levels of management and labor including upper management, production management and employees to see where breakdowns occur.

“For example, on one farm I audited, the written protocols indicated that every truck leaving the system should be disinfected,” says Geiger. “But as I worked my way through each layer of the operation, we uncovered that the wash system wasn’t taking up disinfectant and no one knew it. So, what was happening on the farm wasn’t matching up to the written protocol.”

Once you’ve identified these shortcomings, you can work to create a solution that works for everyone across the company.

#4 Document activities

The last component of a successful health protocol is documentation. What evidence is there that you actually do X, Y or Z on a day-to-day basis? Documentation is helpful when determining where the breakdown in protocol is happening.

“Documentation doesn’t have to be specific to the protocols,” says Geiger. “It might simply be reviewing a log of materials delivered to the facility and confirming that the number of vaccine doses delivered matches the number of pigs vaccinated.”

A cultural mindset

Consistently and accurately implementing these four steps is the key to unlocking a successful biosecurity program. But, Geiger says there’s more to it than just following rules. Good biosecurity starts with engagement at all levels.

“Biosecurity has to be more than protocols,” he says. “It has to be more than locks on doors, UV chambers and downtime tables. It’s a cultural mindset. You have to have people who are accountable and say, ‘this is my job and I’m going to do it right from beginning to end.’”

Are you looking for ways to improve your herd health protocols? The Pharmgate team, including our technical service veterinarians, is here to help.