AgVic Talk Season 8

Biosecurity Basics: stories on how people can build biosecurity into their day-to-day farming practices.

We all play a role in keeping Victoria safe from biosecurity risks.

To help all Victorian’s play their role, this podcast season ‘Biosecurity basics’ takes a deep dive into the fundamentals of biosecurity, including practical things listeners can put in place to play their part in protecting our animals and environment.

This season has been produced by Agriculture Victoria in collaboration with RSPCA Victoria.

Find out more about Agriculture Victoria’s work on managing biosecurity in Victoria.

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Episode 5: Designing a farm map with Clem Sturmfels and Ian Powell

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Maps drawn up for farms were not that long ago the domain of large landholders with deep pockets. That, though, is no longer the case.

G'day, I'm Drew Radford. These days anyone with access to a smartphone, or a computer, can easily access a range of aerial images and maps that will include their property on them. Besides being interesting to look at, they're also needed for Biosecurity Management Plans. However, something like this, you don't even need to go digital. Pen and paper can suffice.

To discuss some of the options, I'm joined for this AgVic Talk Biosecurity podcast by Clem Sturmfels, Agriculture Victoria Land Management Extension Officer.

Clem Sturmfels:

Oh, no worries, at all, Drew. Happy to be on board.

Drew Radford:

Clem, mapping. What's your role in Agriculture Victoria, and how's mapping such a central part of that?

Clem Sturmfels:

Drew, my role, I guess it's always been linked to mapping. My background is controlling soil erosion and helping farmers with farm water supply, particularly specialising in dams. Maps have always formed part of that work. They can be very simple maps, from a sketch, or something a lot more complicated.

Drew Radford:

Clem, we certainly will delve into that a little bit deeper, but before we do, why are maps important to small property holders?

Clem Sturmfels:

The reason maps are valuable to everyone is that complex ideas can be conveyed very quickly and efficiently. A map is simply a picture. Pictures allow us to process information very quickly and efficiently, rather than having it in text, or even in speaking language. A picture is something that we manage to process very quickly, and quite complex ideas can be processed quickly.

Drew Radford:

I imagine it's essential, also, in terms of farm biosecurity plans.

Clem Sturmfels:

Absolutely. I think most of us are becoming aware that one, it's essential just for the farmer to manage the farm and minimise biosecurity risks, but on top of that there's a mandatory requirement for you to have a plan as part of the property risk assessment in your LPA (Livestock Production Assurance). You must have a plan showing where the high-risk sites are on your property. Then likewise, if you are looking at managing public access, a mandatory requirement is that have a map for your Biosecurity Management Plan.

Those maps need to show things like where the public do have access, or where the gateways are on the farm, where the farm boundary is, and even where the signs are on the gateways around the farm. But anywhere where the public may access your farm, maybe along a river frontage or something like that, then not only do you need the map, but you also need those signs to go with it if you want to pursue the public for trespassing.

Drew Radford:

Clem, for those unfamiliar, what is an LPA property risk assessment? What map is needed for that?

Clem Sturmfels:

An LPA, Drew, stands for Livestock Production Assurance, which is a industry-introduced scheme to ensure that our meat and wool products, particularly for the export market, are free of any contamination. So, that contamination could be anything from heavy metals to a whole range of things that might contaminate that, including physical damage to livestock or skins, or something like that.

Drew Radford:

So, what features do you think really need to be included on a map?

Clem Sturmfels:

Again, it depends on the type of map you're talking about. For example, a map of a farm water reticulation system needs to be highly detailed and quite precise, if you want to do it nicely and usefully. Whereas, at the other end of the scale, something like a Biosecurity Management Plan can be a much simpler map, just showing some fairly basic features. It can be a different scale to a bigger farm map. An LPA actually needs quite a lot of detail. You'll need to zoom in, often, on the farmyard to identify where various things are around the farmyard, to meet the requirements of a potential audit for your LPA.

Drew Radford:

Clem, there's a lot of great information you're giving there. I've got to be honest, I'm lousy with a box of crayons. I struggle to draw a straight line. So, how can small landholders get started?

Clem Sturmfels:

My suggestion is they start really simply because at any point in the mapping process you can upgrade. The sort of equipment we've got, now, you can even do things like photograph your old plan and project it up on the wall and draw it onto a big farm map. There's lots of options available these days that we didn't have previously.

To be honest, I love paper. I've always loved paper maps. I've just finished printing off a whole stack of laminated, very large farm maps that we're using at an upcoming biosecurity workshop. They've got this lovely plastic surface and allows you to grab a texter and sketch all over them.

But having said that, there's no reason why a simple piece of A4 or A3 paper can't be a good starting point, where you just draw up your map. It can be a sketch. It doesn't need to be to scale. If we're talking LPA or the Biosecurity Management Plan, BMP, it can be really quite a simple map, as long as it's got the minimum requirements that those maps need. To be sure that you've got that covered, you really need to go back to the checklist and guidelines that are associated with your LPA Risk Assessment, or your Biosecurity Management Plan, to make sure you've ticked off those particular parts of the mapping that are needed.

But then, there's a whole range of options in-between. That can be just drawing things up on a very simple computer program. You could for example, get a satellite image off the internet, paste it into a Word document, and then simply start adding symbols to that photograph to make up quite a neat-looking map.

Or, you can go to the next level, where you might get a bit of professional assistance to get that satellite, or air photo, printed off at a set scale, so you can make accurate measurements with a ruler or a set of grid squares, where you work out area. Even better, if that printed off map has got laminated surface on it, you can then draw all over it, take a photo of it, rub it off again, and then you might do your biosecurity plan. You can clean off your map and use it for something else.

Drew Radford:

Clem, you alluded to it briefly, but I assume there's some fairly high-end options, as well.

Clem Sturmfels:

There is, and there's stuff in-between. There's things like Google Earth Pro or just Google Earth itself, which can make quite effective maps. They're reasonably easy to use, whereas as you increase the level of technology and detail, they get more challenging.

Once you get into the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) end of the system, you need to be computer savvy. You need to be prepared to sit down and operate the system on a weekly or monthly basis to keep your hand in, like any detailed software. So, it's not something I would recommend to somebody who's flat out trying to manage their farm.

There's a whole range of paid for mapping products, which you could use to develop a biosecurity plan. That might be something like AgriWebb, or a similar one. They're pretty expensive. They're specifically for managing stock or managing crop, managing pasture, and how much grass you got left in a paddock. Not perfect for biosecurity mapping, so I wouldn't be rushing into them. But if you're already using them, by all means.

In the GIS product range, you've got some very expensive products such as MapInfo or ArcMap. At the other end of the scale, there's a totally free product, which we're now using in the department for our whole farm planning courses, called QGIS. The advantage of QGIS is it can be modified or programmed by anybody, it's totally free, it's open source.

So, we've taken that to a step further where we've developed our own project, which we've called QGIS My Farm Plan, which comes complete with something like 200 mapping layers, all the symbols, all the colours, all the labels. There's a whole folder called Biosecurity Mapping where you can actually use, if you like, a checklist, to go through and say, "Well, what sorts of things should I be including on my Livestock Assurance Scheme, your LPA?"

Drew Radford:

What would be your top three tips when it comes to designing a farm map?

Clem Sturmfels:

Start with the very basics. Then, get to the more detailed, depending on what sort of media you're using. If you were using, say, a laminated photograph, using something you can rub off easily and redraw. So, play around. Might be a wax pencil, the old wax pencils, or it might be a water-based texta, or a pencil if it's on paper.

I always start with the farm boundary because it gets my eye in. Particularly if I'm using an air photo, it makes me really start to interpret the features on the map. While you might think, "Oh, everybody knows where their farm boundary is," slightly a different challenge when you're up in the air looking down at it, to actually work out.

I would really be starting by drawing in the boundary, having a good look at the landscape, looking at where the shadows are to try and pick up where the ridge lines are and the drainage lines. Maybe, drawing in what you think is a drainage line. Often, even people who haven't got experience in it, can pick up sort of a dark line. There might be a drainage line. Then, you might get these white patches which indicate a dry, northern face of a hill. Or, depending on which way the sun's shining, what time of day the photo's taken, you can usually pick up the ridge lines, as well. And if you've got contours, well, you can certainly draw in your ridge lines.

So, you're starting to build up a three-dimensional model of the farm. Even simple things like dams. Get a blue pen and draw in the dam, over the top so it really stands out. Then, you can start marking some of the more detailed features.

Drew Radford:

Clem, you've given some great pointers there. Where can people go to find out more information?

Clem Sturmfels:

I would certainly get on the Agriculture Victoria website. There is a host of information on there on biosecurity, on whole farm planning, preparing a farm plan. If you want to go to the next level, look for, and again on the website, it'll list current workshops being held around the state and whether that's for a biosecurity workshop, whether that's for a whole farm planning course. A lot our courses include that mapping aspect in their work. I guess my first port of call would be look for a biosecurity workshop itself. Generally, they'll be covering that mapping issue because it is a mandatory requirement of your LPA Risk Assessment.

Drew Radford:

That's Clem Sturmfels from Agriculture Victoria. Someone who's putting this into practice is Ian Powell from near Thorpdale in Gippsland, where he runs 30 cows. This however isn't his full-time occupation, yet, as by day he's an industrial engineer.

Ian Powell:

Well, it's actually a preparation for retirement. My longer-term plan is to wear out, not rot out, so this is part of the path towards doing that. I do have another place at St. Helen's Plains. We had cattle on that for a while, but stopped around 2006 when the drought was really biting in the Wimmera, for us.

Drew Radford:

What are you actually running on the property you've got at Thorpdale?

Ian Powell:

Currently, I've only got Angus cows and calves and one bull. I may add to that with some sheep that'd have to be Dorpers, or some hair shedding variety. Possibly, I might do a little bit of horticulture down the track.

Drew Radford:

You own cattle and that essentially puts you in the livestock sector. You've got a scientific background, and I would put to you that you understand, really well, the importance of biosecurity.

Ian Powell:

From my perspective, my main concerns right now are obviously weeds getting into the property, so pretty vigilant knocking those off. I don't buy in hay. I prefer to cut my own hay. People are welcome to buy it, but I prefer to cut and produce my own, than risk bring in some other new weed variety.

As far as animal biosecurity. Now, I have a greater awareness of my risks in that one, too. So, probably will be very selective in what I buy. May even go back to doing AI (artificial insemination) for creating more calves in the future. We'll see about that. We had a little trial on the other place once, and it worked out quite successful.

Drew Radford:

Ian, as part of your approach to biosecurity management on your property, is mapping essential to that?

Ian Powell:

It's part of the process. So, I first did the map so I could understand the usable paddock sizes I had. There's a website, Nearmaps is what I use to get an aerial view of the farm - then along that, I'm able to draw the lines, and they give me the length. If you create the cell, link it all the way up and make the cell, then you're able to get the area of it.

The reason for doing that one, at the time, was so that I could work out, roughly, what quantities of lime I could put on the ground to start correcting the pH. So, I needed to know what the area was. I'd already had an agronomist do a soil test. I knew, roughly, the rate. Then, I could make a combination budget decision and quantify how much lime I had to buy to get spread out. Now, the extension of that one going forward will be, later on, understanding where weeds dominate, or anything else that might be a problem for me down the track. I can isolate paddocks for various reasons, and then be able to track what goes on with them.

Drew Radford:

So, you were able to pull up the aerial of the property and calculate the landmass size and what you needed there. I understand you've then gone and drawn up your own map, as well.

Ian Powell:

I followed, by and large, the existing fence lines on the property, so I haven't created a new layout for the farm. I've used the existing fence lines, which are fairly reasonable. The farm had been owned by the previous family for 99 years before I had the good fortune to buy it, so it's fairly well laid out. Taking into account the geography of the land works quite well. There might be some minor changes down the track, but I think it'll be more when I start putting in temporary fences for strip grazing.

Drew Radford:

Ian with an engineering background, my head is immediately running down the path of imagining you using computer-aided design programs and advanced software, but what did you actually use to draw it up?

Ian Powell:

On Nearmaps, you can see, quite well, the existing fence line. You're able to just zoom into those and pick it up and drag a line down, and move it across and around, and follow the fence line very accurately That's what I did. Nothing very high-tech.

Drew Radford:

Ian, you say it's not high-tech, but I've seen the maps you produce. They're detailed aerial images with fence lines of each paddock measured out to nearly the centimetre. The paddocks are coloured in and labelled. Also, the total size is calculated. What do you do, then, with these maps that you've produced?

Ian Powell:

I went through and I drew the lines on the image of the farm. I'd worked out the areas for each one of the paddocks. I, then, took snapshots of that. I made a PowerPoint file up, with each paddock size and a snapshot of it on each slide in the PowerPoint file. So, there's an overall photo of the farm, with each paddock with a number. Then, there are zoomed in slides in that PowerPoint file, with each paddock individualised, which shows the area of the paddock, as well. With that PowerPoint file, now, I can send it off to the people spreading the lime, or other people, and identify which paddock to go into. I haven't, as yet, depicted where the gates are on those paddocks. They're fairly obvious to see when you're on the road. Down the track I'll be depicting gates, and more importantly, probably water point connections for when I start going for strip grazing so that I can tap into those.

Drew Radford:

So, that's in terms of calculating what you need to add to a particular paddock. Do you also use that for biosecurity needs?

Ian Powell:

The main thing I do is if cattle come into the place for the first time, I concentrate them in one paddock. That way whatever is excreted, I can go around there and deal with any new infestations, or prospective infestations, that might arise pretty quickly and see it. Then afterwards, they can go to the other paddocks and I won't really don’t worry about having brought fresh and unwanted weeds onto the property. So, it's one paddock I've dedicated, bring the cattle into, and I can monitor that one there.

Drew Radford:

Ian, you've clearly thought about this in detail. What are your tips for anybody coming to design their own farm map?

Ian Powell:

Well, it's much easier if you're on flat ground. If you're in the Goulburn Valley or in the Wimmera, definitely much easier. If the place has been farmed for a long time, it's probably best to follow the fence lines that others have been able to work successfully with. You can, maybe, make them smaller for smaller operations, where you want to concentrate things. As far as the biosecurity going, it's really a case of deciding where you want to concentrate the introduction of new livestock, or anything you bring in new, so that you can go back and look in one area and try and pick those off very quickly, by regularly walking that paddock and checking it.

Drew Radford:

Ian, lastly, where do you go for information and advice when it comes to biosecurity in particular?

Ian Powell:

I had the good fortune to chat with someone from AgVic on biosecurity. I became aware of a lot of other things I need to be more attentive to. Simple things. For example, even when I've had to call the vet out to look at livestock, I've laid out the gates so that they can go to one spot and park their vehicle. All vets will be attentive to what they might bring in, but just in case there's one spot for that.

The people that come here and spread the lime, their equipment is very clean so don't have to worry about them bringing in weeds.

As I mentioned before, I cut my own hay so I won't bring in weeds from that. I actually mow along the fence line, very closely, so that I can see weeds and blackberries, any infestation starting along the fence line to try and stop them as much as possible before they come over the fence.

Sometimes neighbours on the other side of the road might have less diligent control over those, so you can't completely control that. You can stop it at the front line on your place as much as possible. I do that. It takes a lot of time, but do that very closely, as well.

Drew Radford:

Well, Ian, it sounds like you've taken a very structured and analytical approach to keeping your property safe, and effectively, everybody else in the industry, as well. For now, though, Ian Powell, thank you for joining us for this AgVic Talk Biosecurity podcast.

Ian Powell:

Ah, you're welcome, Drew.

Speaker 1:

To access biosecurity support, programs, and information from Agriculture Victoria and the RSPCA, check out the notes for this podcast season. This has been an AgVic Talk and RSPCA podcast. All information is accurate at the time of release. For more AgVic Talk podcasts, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/agvictalk.

Episode 4: Buying and selling livestock 101 with Ben Fahy

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

For the uninitiated biosecurity can be daunting especially when terms like Property Identification Code and National Livestock Identification System are bandied about. G’day I’m Drew Radford and while these terms might sound like word spaghetti newcomers, Ben Fahy, who is Livestock Traceability Manager with Agriculture Victoria simplifies it all.

Ben Fahy:

What we say is a Property Identification Code is like your driver's license. It's the detail of where you live. That's the detail where the animals are. And it's a registry that we have of who you are, what your phone number is and how best to contact you.

The NLIS tags that we use to identify animals, livestock, they're like the license plate of car, your number plate. So that identifies that individual animal and forevermore stays with that animal. We can then, with that detail, start to look at the animal's life history as it moves around in its life.

The National Vendor Declaration is done by the owner or the carer of the animals. It has real important detail, and it's like the registration papers. It's like ensuring that there's enough information in there that someone receiving the car could look at it and say, "Right, it's registered. Everything's right with it." It can continue along.

And then finally, we do recommend that producers that are selling or moving livestock off their property fill in what we call a National Health Declaration. And it's like a mechanic's report. It's like someone saying, "We've looked at this animal in this case, and to the best of our knowledge, it doesn't have anything wrong with it." Or it might've been vaccinated with a particular vaccine that protects it from disease in the future. And so you can list all that information there. It gives that really clear snapshot of the health and the history of those animals so that the receiver of the animals can then better manage them as they take them on and do whatever they're going to do with them next.

Drew Radford:

Ben, that makes so much sense when put into that context. So how's it applied to small scale landholders, land managers, when moving animals on or off or between farms?

Ben Fahy:

The key is to think about the basics. So for us, we need the property that they own or that they keep their animals on to be identified with a Property Identification Code. Now, PICs, as we refer to them, they're the cornerstone of any traceability system. They give us the ability to know where animals are located within Victoria and across Australia, but importantly, they give us the information of who would be managing or caring or own those animals. And so if there's a disease or food safety or even fire, flood events, we can quickly make contact with those producers, owners of animals, to tell them really important information that will keep possibly them safe, but more importantly, keep their animals safe and protect them from disease events that could cause them to be sick.

So it's a requirement that they have a Property Identification Code, but then as they move animals on and off, there's a whole number of different things that they need to remember. One, when moving animals off, there's a need to have an identification for that animal. And predominantly we see that as a tag, NLIS, National Livestock Identification System tag. They're nationally approved. They're available for sheep, goats, and cattle. And so when you're moving those animals off your farm, you need to identify that particular animal.

The other thing that's very important is the completion of a vendor declaration. So that's the owner or the person that cares for these animals fills in information that relates to their history, and importantly, fills in information that relates to their suitability for entry into the food supply chain if they're going that way. But even if they're not heading into a sale yard or an abattoir, if they're going to another property, it's information that that person receiving the animals really needs to know.

So we've also got a Vendor Declaration that details the history of the animals, the property that they came from, and that gives key information to the receiver of the animals when they're moving off the farm. It's important for any movements off the farm for animals, that they ensure those animals are suitable for the trip ahead. Whether it be a short trip to a show or whether it's a long trip to another property interstate, you need to make sure that they're fit and healthy.

Now nationally, there is a quality assurance program that industry, the drive is for, and it provides a really good system for producers to understand what all the requirements are for owning livestock, from biosecurity to welfare to traceability, and that's the Livestock Production Assurance System. It's run through Integrity Systems company, and producers or owners of animals that join up to the LPA Quality Assurance Program, they can access what we call National Vendor Declarations, and that's the accepted vendor declaration across the country. The majority of sale yards, abattoirs, even purchasers that are having animals come back onto their property, they will only accept Livestock Production Assurance backed animals, and so you will need an LPA Vendor Declaration.

I think it's important that we recognise the risk of movements onto the farm, and there's many movements that can occur onto a farm, not just animals. But if we look at animals, there's a need to transfer those animals onto your property when you receive them. So there's an electronic database, the NLIS database, which is housed in Sydney, and it collects all of the information of animals moving onto properties, moving into sale yards, moving into abattoirs, and even those animals that go for live export.

And so it collects all that information and is a ready resource for both industry but also state and territory governments if we need to trace in the event of a disease outbreak, if we need to know where animals have come from, if we need to know where animals that may have mingled with a particular animal have gone to, so cohorts of a particular animal. So it's a very important database, and it's receiving probably, across the country, millions of movement details per week, so a significant amount of information goes in there.

So a person receiving animals needs to do the transfer of those animals onto their Property Identification Code, and so in doing that, they show that they've become resident on the property. And if we needed to, we could look up that particular PIC and we could see that movement and we could also see where they moved from.

If you receive an animal, you should also receive a vendor declaration, and from that you'll know the Property Identification Code that that animal last came from, and the piece of information on the vendor dec, the PIC, goes with the tag details of that particular animal, and then it's uploaded to the NLIS database and it's kept there. And it informs the life history of those animals as they move around in their lifetime, so we can tell from where they were born and how many properties they've moved onto in their life from looking at the NLIS database.

Now, producers, owners of animals that have new animals that come on, introduce animals, they need to notify the NLIS database within two days of the arrival of those animals. And that's important because we're then very up to date with that moving information, and we can trace very quickly where animals have moved to or come from, and it just gives us that really good head start in trying to manage a disease event or food safety event that may occur.

Drew Radford:

Ben, there's a lot of information to absorb there, and you've been very detailed, and I thank you for that. What about feed?

Ben Fahy:

Yeah, so certainly feed is another one of the commodities producers or animal owners will bring on. It's important to record what feed you bring on, where it was sourced from. There are commodity decs for, whether it be grains or fodder that you bring on. And so if there are residues contained within that feed, you as the owner of the animals need to know that, and you need to make sure that they're suitable feed to be provided to animals.

So ensuring that you keep a record of those fodder that you have, when you fed it, where was it sourced from, so that there's something that you can go back to if there is an issue with either your animal as a result of the fodder, or if there's a query you have around the fodder quality and its source.

Drew Radford:

Ben, what about vehicle movements? I mean, is there a requirement to record those or is that more a business management practice?

Ben Fahy:

For movements on and off the property by people, it may be your local vet, it might be your local livestock agent, it might be an animal health officer from Agriculture Victoria, we recommend that you always keep a log of those people and movements on or off. It might be a milk tanker if you're a dairy person. Any movements of people and vehicles on and off the property, our recommendation is you keep a log of that.

Now, you don't have to have a really high tech solution for that. There's some great solutions out there on your phone that you can get an app for. But it might be as simple as just in your diary or the calendar that you write down all your appointments. You just record that local vet came today, or we had a visit from our livestock agent today. So it can be really simple, but it again provides some really good information for you as the landowner and the person owning the animals to refer back to.

But in the event of that disease or food safety issue, we can quickly speak to you because we have your details on our Property Identification Code register. And you can say to us, "In fact, I had my vet out two days ago," and that could be a really important piece of information for us to inform our tracing and fill in some of the gaps of where a disease may have come from or spread to.

Drew Radford:

Ben, we've covered a lot of ground. Any last thoughts you'd like to leave small landholders with?

Ben Fahy:

Look, I think the one thing probably to keep in the back of your mind if you're a small landholder is you may not own a large number of animals, but you're an important part of the multi-billion dollar livestock industry that Australia relies on, and so any actions that you take or lack of action can affect that industry both positively and negatively. And so whilst you may not be selling thousands of animals and you may not be selling them direct to saleyards or big producers, you're certainly a vital part of that livestock industry, and so doing what you can to protect that industry helps protect all of the people that are involved in that industry.

Drew Radford:

Ben, that's a really important point to finish on. Ben Fahy, Agriculture Victoria, Manager of Livestock Traceability, thank you so much for joining us for this AgVic Talk biosecurity podcast.

Ben Fahy:

Thanks for having me.

Speaker 5:

To access biosecurity support programs and information from Agriculture Victoria and the RSPCA, check out the notes with this podcast season. This has been an AgVic Talk and RSPCA podcast. All information is accurate at the time of release. For more AgVic Talk podcasts, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/agvictalk.

Episode 3: Common questions about biosecurity with Rachael Laukart and Brett Davidson

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Biosecurity, it's everyone's concern, but surely I'm not everyone if all I've got is an alpaca and a couple of sheep on the back block.

G’day, I'm Drew Radford, and the answer to that is, yes. So, what then does that involve? This series of AgVic Talk is dedicated to answering that with a deep dive into the biosecurity fundamentals of managing a small-scale landholding.

To start us off, I'm joined by Brett Davidson, who is Dairy Regional Manager in Tatura for Agriculture Victoria. He's also working in the biosecurity space, helping producers manage risk and improve their biosecurity practices.

Assisting him with that is Rachael Laukart, who is an Education Officer with the RSPCA.

Thank you both for joining us for this AgVic Talk podcast.

Rachael Laukart:

Thank you very much, Drew. It's a pleasure to be here today.

Brett Davidson:

Thank you.

Drew Radford:

Brett, let's start with you. I imagine biosecurity is important to you, not just professionally, but also personally because I've heard you describe yourself as a cattle tragic. Where does that come from?

Brett Davidson:

Oh, it just comes from many hours on my grandfather's farm as a kid, I suppose. I think I used to annoy the hell out of him just with cow questions the whole time and following him around. I don't think it's got better as I've got older, it's probably got worse. It's a lot of fun, cattle. I really enjoy them. I know Rachael is one too, and that's something we've got in common.

Drew Radford:

Well, you do have it in common, but Brett, you also run some cattle yourself, do you?

Brett Davidson:

Yeah, we do run a cattle enterprise on the side of my full-time work, and it keeps getting bigger. It's good fun.

Drew Radford:

So certainly got some skin in the game. And Rachael, cow tragic as well?

Rachael Laukart:

Yeah. I got to start off my career working in the commercial sector, in dairy, a bit of beef feedlotting and some lambs in there as well, and now I get the pleasure of working a bit more in that welfare space with RSPCA and working with people who don't run necessarily commercial enterprises and some of those smaller numbers of livestock.

Drew Radford:

Well, you are working with everyone because you and Brett have been running a series of online seminars, talking with smaller landholders about biosecurity.

Rachael Laukart:

Yeah. When we started working off in this space, we really saw a need to make sure that information was readily available and in a way that could be understood by the everyday person. There's fantastic information out there around running livestock in commercial settings and we wanted to make sure that was really accessible for people who were running them in smaller numbers, so that's really where we've come together and created this space where we've got a lot of education offerings and we can have some of these discussions.

Drew Radford:

This series is aimed at helping smaller producers, so does that include people with an alpaca or a few sheep, or maybe even a small cattle stud?

Rachael Laukart:

We will happily assist people who own one livestock, two mini livestock, and we really will be focusing, and particularly from an RSPCA perspective, on animals that are less than 10 in number. And then if we've got animals that exceed that number, we start to work absolutely with AgVic to be able to support people in that practice.

Brett Davidson:

We're supporting everybody and that's why we work together.

Drew Radford:

I'm wondering though if sometimes there is perception, I've only got a few cows or a couple of sheep so biosecurity isn't something I need to think about, that's the responsibility of professional operators?

Brett Davidson:

Well, biosecurity is everybody's responsibility because there is certain viruses and diseases that can swap between species. For me, the ones that come off the top of my head, the ones that do impact human health a lot are leptospirosis and Q fever, and they're two quite serious diseases. It is everybody's responsibility because if we get those building blocks right and they are fairly simple, we can maintain, protect our animal's health, but also that of you and your family as well.

Rachael Laukart:

I really encourage people to consider biosecurity as part of their everyday practices when they're managing their livestock because there's so many things that we can incorporate on a daily basis to prioritise biosecurity and make sure that everyone's doing their part.

Drew Radford:

Do you mean by that, Rachael, that word, vectors, whether it's mud on your boots or fluids?

Rachael Laukart:

Yeah, absolutely. So there's different ways that things can move around, and part of that might be through the transfer of mud from one place to another, or it might be in manure, it might be in the movement of animals, or nose-to-nose contact between animals. So depending on what we're mainly concerned about or maybe what we're trying to target specifically, that's when we'll be looking at those vectors. Brett, what comes to mind when you think about vectors and how would we manage them?

Brett Davidson:

One of the messages we're trying to get is the Come Clean Go Clean message, but there's five vectors, so manure on vehicles and boots, nose-to-nose contact, or aerosols. Certain serious transmittable diseases are that way, like anthrax. There's also insects, biting insects, so blood-to-blood, obviously they're a bit hard to manage, but you can do that from time to time when it's necessary.

And then there's water and food. So when we talk about food, we talk about restricted animal materials or RAMs, and the foot-and-mouth in the UK was someone feeding meat materials to pigs and that started the whole UK foot-and-mouth outbreak. This is why we talk about why it's everybody's responsibility, it can be something minor how things get in, but if we've got those practices in place which are fairly simple, it's actually quite easy to manage.

Drew Radford:

You've painted a detailed picture there and a concerning picture when it goes wrong. So the idea of running a few cows or sheep is one thing, but I imagine there's a lot of practicalities to weigh up in terms of what is even the appropriate animals to run on your property? How do people make those decisions? What do you need to consider?

Rachael Laukart:

I think it can be incredibly exciting to be looking at bringing livestock onto your property. People do it because they want the experience and it's so fulfilling to have livestock, but before we get swept away with that emotion side of things, we really need to think from a practical perspective of what's actually going to be most appropriate around the type of livestock that we run, so that might be around species selection. So, do we run cattle or do we run sheep? Do we run goats or alpacas? And being able to think about that from a bit more of a practical and logical perspective really helps us make those decisions early on and set us up for a really successful experience.

Brett Davidson:

Rachael and I have talked about this quite a bit, producers need infrastructure and space to keep animals. They also need a bit of shelter, and infrastructure is probably one of the main things if we're talking about new systems and what type of animals to get.

Rachael Laukart:

If we are thinking of maybe we want a couple of sheep because maybe we a smaller space to be able to run animals in, some of our smaller animals might be a really good option. But also, let's consider that there's husbandry components, and what I mean by husbandry components is things that we need to do for them to help maintain them and make them have a good and healthy life with us. That might look like having access to yards to be able to yard them and shear them once a year, or to be able to check their feet to make sure that they're not getting overgrown hooves.

It's really important when we are thinking about bringing livestock onto our property to take a bit more of a seasonal or yearly perspective to go, "Do we have enough grass to make sure that we've got enough food for them year round?" Or, "Have we got enough water access to all the points in our paddocks to make sure that over summer, we've got plenty of water available for the animals that we're running?" So some of these things we need to consider before we select perhaps the species and even the number of animals that we want to run on our property.

Brett Davidson:

Rachael and I have both had numerous experience with pasture and animals and to be honest, most of the time it doesn't match up. There's either too much grass or not enough. So you do need to be able to manage how you're going to do that, and invariably, it really means buying some hay at some point in time or some supplementary feed.

Drew Radford:

And we're going to drill down into that a little bit further in a later episode, but Brett, in terms of infrastructure, sheep versus cattle, I imagine you've got to think about are my fences going to be robust enough? How do I load them on and off and separate them? There's a whole lot of stuff in terms of infrastructure.

Brett Davidson:

Yeah, but you need a crush for cattle. The average cow weight's a bit over 600 kilos now for beef cattle, mature cow weight. Some bulls can quite often get over a tonne. They're not really keen on just standing there while you give them vaccinations and things so you need to be able to restrain them, and that's even for vet checks. It can be for a minor thing like a hayseed or a cyst. You've got to be able to have them in a setting where you can actually help them out to keep them healthy.

Drew Radford:

There's a number of things to consider. How do producers overcome some of these common challenges?

Brett Davidson:

If you've got your common everyday practices in place about biosecurity, it's actually quite easy to manage. But the things we haven't talked about yet that are very important, which is having a property identification code, this is a requirement if you own livestock. It's also a requirement to have a NILS tag, which is a National Livestock Identification System, and that just helps with full supply chain tracing. It follows that animal all the way through its lifetime.

Farm maps are a good thing, just having your areas, putting some zones in place like your cattle yards, you may not have your animals there the whole time, or you have a paddock that you can use for quarantine sometimes. There's also pre-testing. Some buyers, they'll actually do a lot of pre-testing for you, whether it's Johne's disease or a Pestivirus or those type of things. They're out there but they're not that common, but if we've got good biosecurity practices in place, we can keep our cows healthy and happy.

Rachael Laukart:

We are really wanting to be able to set ourselves up for success in these systems, and the ways to do that is to be able to implement some of these really straightforward practices on a daily basis that might be Come Clean, Go Clean. It's a fantastic way to be able to protect the animals on our property as well as animals on other people's properties, but also being able to supervise and keep eyes on our animals. That might look like making sure we do a bit of a paddock walk each day, and we can bring that as part of our routine to make sure that we can pick up on any of our livestock that might be looking a little bit poorly or starting to show some signs that we need to maybe get them in for a bit more of check over, and we can pick up on these signs early if we're constantly going and having a look at them on a regular basis. And we can just bring that as part of our daily management plan with them.

Brett Davidson:

There's a couple of simple things that we've got in place here for our property, which is, we've got boot washing stations at the yards and at the house just so that if anyone does have dirty boots, they can give them a clean. Obviously, clean water is good and then detergents, even better. But we've got a couple people that do come on our property a lot, like our agronomist and our vet. I've actually bought some cheap gum boots for them, so then when they come to my place, they just swap boots so they don't have to clean their boots all the time. They're just putting on a set of boots that don't leave the property, they walk out on the property, and they swap into their own shoes before they hop in their car and go home or to the next property. But that just stops that spread.

Drew Radford:

There's a whole lot of stuff we're talking about here. Do you need a formalised biosecurity plan?

Brett Davidson:

You do need a plan, yes. As part of your meat and livestock registration, you do need a plan. It doesn't have to be onerous. Rachael's got quite a good one for their RSPCA farm as well.

Rachael Laukart:

Yeah, absolutely. For us here, we make sure that we've got a bit of a farm map going. So on the property, we know what areas we can have a bit more movement, and then we make sure that the animals that stay here full-time are in a different part of the property so that there's no crossover between animals that we might be looking after for a short period of time, and what we would consider our permanent residences.

Drew Radford:

These broader plans, are biosecurity signs actual detailed instructions on a sign, on your property, part of that?

Brett Davidson:

Yes, they are, Drew. Those signs usually have your name and phone number on them, like I have. People get to the front gate, they can ring you. And good biosecurity's really about a conversation to start off with, just to explain to other people coming on your property what your expectations are. And once you've done that, that's fairly right, that also from a legal standpoint, it'll actually help protect you from trespassers. So, there is very good reasons for having a sign. It just helps everybody out. If you're having those conversations with people and you've got people calling you before they come onto your property, that takes a lot of the stresses away about trying to manage different things and it makes biosecurity easy.

Rachael Laukart:

It does make it so much easier, doesn't it, Brett? If we think about some of the people who support us around owning livestock, and that might be vets or stock agents, that they can roll up to the front gate and your mobile number or best contact number is there for them. They can give you a bit of a bell, let you know that they are there, and then you can have any conversations around what your individual biosecurity plan might look like, for example, asking them to change boots before they hop out of the car.

Brett Davidson:

Or turning up with clean vehicles if it's a carrier. They're just simple things that you can pop in place.

Drew Radford:

What other considerations or permits do people need to consider when keeping livestock? And we're also talking about peri-urban areas in this series, so I imagine zoning's even part of that.

Brett Davidson:

You certainly just need to check with your local shire rules because they've got different regulations. For example, where my sister lives, she's not allowed to have a rooster. So she can have chooks, but she cannot have a rooster. And obviously with pigs, cattle, sheep and goats, there is some restrictions in some zones. If you're in those peri-urban areas, it's probably best to check with your local shire about what rules they've got in place. And you really need to have a Property Identification Code, that's mandatory and that's easy to get. It's just like having a car licence or anything like that. If you go onto the Agriculture Victoria website and type in, "PIC," you'll find a quick and easy registration there.

Drew Radford:

Lastly, what are your takeaway messages, Brett and Rachael, for people who want to have livestock on their property, on their smaller holding, what would you like them to take away from this episode?

Rachael Laukart:

We want people to consider that everyone has a responsibility to manage biosecurity on their own property with their own animals. It's very easy and straightforward to be able to incorporate some of these simple factors into daily management, and we really encourage you to start incorporating these things so that it becomes second nature, because it really is.

Brett Davidson:

And I'd just like to add that having livestock's so much fun, I get such a kick out of getting new calves each year. Our kids have really enjoyed livestock so much. It's a great way for kids to learn about things as well. Enjoying livestock's great, but no one wants to deal with sick or injured livestock so we need to do what we can, and simple biosecurity goes a long way to protecting your animals from all types of different issues that can come up.

Drew Radford:

You've both given a lot to think about, but for now, Brett Davidson from Agriculture Victoria and Rachael Laukart from RSPCA, thank you so much for taking the time and joining us for this AgVic Talk podcast.

Brett Davidson:

Thank you Drew, and thank you, Rachael.

Rachael Laukart:

Thank you so much, Drew. Thanks, Brett.

Speaker 1:

To access biosecurity support, programs and information from Agriculture Victoria and the RSPCA, check out the notes with this podcast season. This has been an AgVic Talk and RSPCA podcast. All information is accurate at the time of release. For more AgVic Talk podcasts, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/agvictalk.

Episode 2: Farm with a Difference with Jill Noble

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

If you have a small landholding with even just a couple of sheep on it, then you're part of the livestock industry.

G'day, I'm Drew Radford, and being part of that also has some responsibilities, and it involves terms like Property Identification Code and National Livestock Identification System. These terms, though, are not as daunting as they may first sound but they are crucial for livestock biosecurity.

Jill Noble from Hallston Valley Farm has this front of mind every single day, as she's part of a farming operation that some would argue is exposed to more biosecurity risks than most. Jill, thanks for joining me.

Jill Noble:

Pleasure. Nice to be here.

Drew Radford:

Jill, I've been really looking forward to interviewing you, because you run a farm with a difference. Can you tell me about it?

Jill Noble:

Yes, thanks. It's quite a diverse farm. Primarily our main product is sheep, both stud sheep, so selling rams, ewes and lambs; and meat, red meat. We provide a paddock to plate product mainly across our local region, so primarily Gippsland, even though we do deliver right up to including some Geelong region.

Then we also have an agritourism arm to our business, where we provide farm experiences, very sort of intimate one-on-one farm experiences. For example, we do birthday parties and romantic getaway type farm experiences. We do farm experiences for disability providers and people with a disability. And then we also have a couple of cabins. They're like tiny homes, but no one lives there, but they come and have a farm escape if you like, and that's run through another provider who owns the cabins. So it's quite diverse.

And then we also do a bit of education too. I run a podcast myself. I write a sheep magazine, and we do a lot of on-farm and off-farm education with other new upcoming farmers.

Drew Radford:

Jill, that's a really broad farm business, to say the least. And before we delve into the associated biosecurity risks, I just want to understand the farming side a bit more in terms of livestock. What are you running and what sort of numbers?

Jill Noble:

We're running a self-shedding British wool sheep, so it sheds its wool. It's the only wool shedding sheep in the world. It's called Wiltshire Horn sheep. We've got about 300 of those, so about 150 breeding ewes, and then rams and replacements, so about 300 head all up on 155 acres. We also manage a few other smaller properties in the South Gippsland area, where we occasionally have animals on and off there. And then we have a couple of alpacas. We have some cattle, so I generally bottle raise some steers every year.

Drew Radford:

There's a lot going on there, and I would argue a really valuable resource giving people access to a working farm. And it is a working access too, because I've seen on your Insta page people lamb marking. It's not just come and pat an animal. So this must bring with it then a whole other raft of biosecurity issues, because people are always trying to manage what comes on and off their property to mitigate biosecurity issues.

Jill Noble:

Yeah, it does present a major issue. One of the key things we had to do was sort of almost build a dedicated car park. Occasionally we might have 10, 20 vehicles a week coming onto our property. These aren't delivery vehicles either, actually people who will come either to stay on the farm or on the property or come for a day. So those vehicles bring with them lots of potential biosecurity risks, as often they're coming from other farms. So we built a dedicated car park so the cars come and park in a particular car park and generally don't traverse around the farm. So they're quarantined when they come onto the farm.

Drew Radford:

What about the people, though? I mean, when you talk about people coming on your properties and you change boots over.

Jill Noble:

Yeah, it's another challenge. So with the boots, depending on the environment, what's going on, we occasionally have washing stations and mats for visitors, particularly where we know that those visitors have been on farms recently, on their own farm perhaps, or maybe it's someone who's just constantly on a farm. We do a lot of washing. We're lucky in Gippsland. It does rain, so we have water that we can wash things, so washing boots or washing trailers or washing equipment we might use. So there's a lot of that that goes on. And humans as well, so encouraging humans to bring appropriate clean clothes when they're coming on to our farm, particularly if they're going to work and do the lamb marking.

Drew Radford:

I would imagine then record-keeping is particularly important for you.

Jill Noble:

With the visitors who come for the weekend, we are notified in advance of their name, and there's an ongoing record of every single visitor who stayed on our farm through an app, which is really good and we can trace that back. And then for everyone else who we bring on for our education purposes or farm experiences, same idea. We are keeping records of who they are or where they've come from, what organisation they might be with.

Drew Radford:

Well, the other ongoing relationship you have is obviously with your animals, so what about record keeping for them?

Jill Noble:

We find that the use of the NLIS tag system, we actually use an Enduro tag. So it's a very endurable tag which has two prongs, so it lasts a very long time in our animals. And we use that in conjunction with a radio frequency identification scanner and a piece of agricultural software which is called an indicator. So when our animals come on and off our property, we use that to track them.

And of course, we're using our e-declarations online as well. We do a lot of shows. We attend a lot of agricultural shows. So with that, those animals will go off our PIC number and come back on PIC number afterwards, so we have a trace of all of that. And we'll also use our scanner as well for that purpose.

Drew Radford:

So you've got a tourism side going on. You've also got a lot going on. You mentioned there showing animals, so they're being moved on and off the property. Plus you've got other properties you're looking after as well. My head's starting to spin in terms of the biosecurity management requirements.

Jill Noble:

There is a lot. So we use a lot of quarantining when the animals come on and off. We've got quite big sheepyards. We have the animals quarantined in there. We will always keep our vaccinations up to date, particularly 5-in-1 vaccinations. I even use a vaccination for an internal parasite, so that's for Barber's pole worm, which is quite a big challenge in our region.

Probably something else to mention is we have quite a lot of feral animals. We have quite a lot of deer on our property as well, and they also give us a huge biosecurity challenge, because they also are carriers of a lot of internal parasites. So we have a huge external biosecurity problem with other animals, particularly deer coming onto our property. So with that, the vaccinations both for the bacterial diseases and also the one we use for the parasites is very useful. And then we would also use drenches and quarantine drenches as well.

Drew Radford:

Animals like deer are hugely problematic, because obviously they just bound over your fences and you've got to go to extreme levels to try and keep them out. So is there another level of monitoring that's required of your animals then in terms of faecal testing or anything like that, just to make sure that you're constantly on top of this?

Jill Noble:

Yeah, we definitely use quite a lot of faecal testing. Apart from our quarantine drenches, that's what we would use to make a decision about any other drenches to administer. So we try and do a little bit of everything to try and help manage all those problems.

Drew Radford:

With you juggling so much, you must have some good insights. What would your top three tips be to give small-scale landholders, land managers, about traceability and record keeping?

Jill Noble:

I mean, of course, it comes down to affordability, but the electronic systems really are very easy to use and administer, but they do come at a cost. So if that was something that a small holder was looking at, that would be something to consider, and then effectively it all becomes an electronic record.

Without that, though, with a small flock, you can easily do it on a spreadsheet, just keeping track of it yourself. And then, of course, when you use the National Vendor Declarations, that actually keeps a track of it too. So between all of those, it really does help us identify any risks or reduce any risks or track or trace any issues that might occur.

Drew Radford:

There is a lot to track and trace, Jill, and there's a lot of information you've got to be across, which is constantly changing and updating. So where or who do you go to for that information to make sure that you are always up to date?

Jill Noble:

There's lots of different places to keep up to date. I follow Sheep Notes, which is the little notelet that comes in the post, but also there's an online one as well. I always devour that once it comes to my inbox. And because I'm, I suppose myself, I'm creating content around these topics for the sheep magazine and the sheep podcast, I'm always chatting with lots of different people, and even at shows talking to lots of different people. So I think it's a range of mentors. And then it's good to also have a good relationship with a vet, a local vet, someone who does know your local area and who has been to your property and could potentially identify hazards that you wouldn't identify.

Apart from that, one other resource might be where you are just keeping up to date with global aspects, so any other extension providers in other countries where there might be some developments. So for example, the Barber vaccination, which is a great tool, that was developed with the Moredun Institute in Scotland. So what are other jurisdictions, other countries doing that perhaps could be very helpful for us as small holders?

Drew Radford:

Some great insights there for other property holders. Any simple 101 things that you've done with your place that pretty much everybody should have?

Jill Noble:

I think everyone should have a biosecurity sign on their front gate with their phone number. It just identifies risks before they even enter your property, so I think that's an essential. We've also had a lot of trespassers, so locking any gates that are very visible, particularly from roads. Closing gates just generally on your property. Cleaning trailers when you use them to go on and off your property. Always using gloves. I know these are so basic, but they're so important. Always using gloves.

And then if you are working animals, and even if you've got no sick animals, but work from the younger animal to the older animal. So if you're going to be perhaps marking your lambs, for example, separate your lambs. Do all the work you have to do with your lambs, and then maybe check your ewes. Younger animals don't have any immunity. They're very weak immunity, much like children. So when we work them younger to older, we generally ensure that we don't pass on anything that might be in your older flock to the younger animals. And the same would be if you are working with a sick animal, tend to that sick animal after you tend to your healthy animals so that you yourself don't carry that risk internally to your healthy flock.

Drew Radford:

Jill you manage arguable more biosecurity considerations than most. However at the end of the day you use the same overarching systems as everybody else does to do so, things like PICs and the NLIS. Jill Noble from Hallston Farms, thank you so much for joining us for this AgVic Talk biosecurity podcast.

Jill Noble:

Thank you for the opportunity

Speaker 5:

To access biosecurity support programs and information from Agriculture Victoria and the RSPCA, check out the notes with this podcast season. This has been an AgVic Talk and RSPCA podcast. All information is accurate at the time of release. For more AgVic Talk podcasts, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/agvictalk.

Episode 1: Biosecurity Basics with Erica Smith and Richard Smith

Speaker 1:

Welcome to AgVic Talk, keeping you up to date with information from Agriculture Victoria.

Drew Radford:

Running a few cows on a small block to keep the grass down, and also to put beef in the freezer, can also have ramifications way beyond your own fence line. G’day, I'm Drew Radford, and those concerns relate to biosecurity. It affects everyone.

Erica Smith knows this only too well. She purchased a few highland cattle to deal with grass and also freezer stocking. That has turned into a stud, Glenstrae Highlands, and it's spread across multiple small holdings. And her customers, well, they're other small property owners seeking their own highland cattle. So she has a strong interest in small holdings and biosecurity. To find out more. Erica joins us for this episode of AgVic Talk. Thanks for your time.

Erica Smith:

Oh, thanks for having me.

Drew Radford:

Erica. Highland Cattle, they're not that common in Australia. Why highland cattle?

Erica Smith:

I chose mine from a sentimental reason, I guess, more than anything. Grew up in central Queensland where we had Brahmans, that was Dad's thing. We used to have the cows to keep the grass down and fill the freezer every year. And then after Dad passed away, we moved down to Victoria.

Didn't know that Brahmans would be such a good choice down here, so we went looking for something that suited the climate a bit better. Found their temperament suited and they look really good. So went into highlands.

Drew Radford:

They do look really good. Do they require any extra care?

Erica Smith:

They can generally look after themselves. You need to make sure they've got shade because they've got a double layer of hair. But they have horns for a reason. So their horns regulate their temperature, and they also use their horns to scratch themselves. Or they'll scratch on trees or fence posts, and they shed out once a year usually.

I can go out in a paddock and I can brush them. So I'll just help them de-shed that winter coat come spring. But yeah, it's not uncommon to find a tree branch with a clump of hair on it or something from the cows.

Drew Radford:

It's a reasonable amount of hair too. I'd imagine.

Erica Smith:

And the birds love it. The birds use it. We found bird's nests everywhere with highland hair in it.

Drew Radford:

So Erica, you got into them for a similar reason, you had them back home in Queensland. Was it managing grass and occasionally filling the freezer?

Erica Smith:

We'd bought a property that had a small acreage. Didn't want to be mowing it all the time, needed something to keep the grass down. And cows have always been something that I knew a little bit about. So we got the highlands to keep the grass down with the aim to put one in the freezer and keep the family fed. Because we know where the beef comes from, and we always liked knowing where our beef came from.

I started with registered stud cattle just because that was what was available when I found someone to talk to. And from there, kind of went into showing. So I now breed registered stock, and I show them, and sell them on for other people to start breeding registered stock.

Drew Radford:

In that process, has your herd outgrown your property?

Erica Smith:

I'm very, very lucky in that I have good pastures, but I also have small acreages across the road and next door to me that I can utilise. So I manage my property but on four small acreages. Which keeps my animals where I need them to be, but it just gives me a little bit of extra logistics with managing who goes where.

But again, lucky because they haven't got their own cattle or animals. So I basically get the full run of it, and can do with those properties what I need to do to keep everyone safe.

Drew Radford:

Well, in terms of keeping everyone safe and those logistics, I imagine biosecurity is quite important to you. Especially spread over a number of different locations.

Erica Smith:

It's all five-acre blocks. So that's not huge, but the management of them does involve things like weed control, fertilising. When we cut for hay, you're obviously bringing in machinery that's going from one small acreage block to another. That can be a concern.

So there's a bit that I need to manage. I also manage to keep my weeds down by actually cutting my hay locally, rather than having to buy it in. Because that's another issue, that you can bring in weeds without even realising it. So it's a little bit in there. And then just making sure my fences are hot so that cattle can't escape. That is another step that we take. And yeah, we've just got a wash down area, I guess, for equipment. For unloading and loading and making sure we don't do any of those spreads of seeds and weeds.

Drew Radford:

What about people coming onto the properties though, Erica? I imagine these cattle attract a bit of attention. And also you're doing it for stud work. So I imagine you're probably getting more people coming onto your properties than your regular small acreage holding.

Erica Smith:

Yeah, it's funny. I don't actually have a lot of visitors. I don't open it up to visitors to come. And then when I do have people that are coming to look for a reason, we've got the biosecurity sign on the gate. So anyone who turns up knows exactly, they've got to give us a call and come in. But anyone who has made an arrangement to come usually gets a brief rundown, make sure your boots are clean, make sure you've got clean clothes.

Come in, and then when they leave, if it's been muddy, we'll wash them off. So that essentially they do that, come clean, stay clean, go clean. And we all work together to try and stop any potential spread of anything.

Drew Radford:

That sounds like you're being quite detailed about what you've needed to put in place to protect you, your stock, and also surrounding properties.

Erica Smith:

Yeah, there's some great tips out there. I was lucky when I first started that the breeder I got my cattle from gave me the basics, get your PIC (Property Identification Code) number, and the steps that I needed to take to get started.

And then it can be quite overwhelming with, how do we go about getting set up for biosecurity? Because it can seem like a lot. But the tools that are available on Agriculture Victoria website, with their biosecurity plans, just makes it so, so simple to be able to follow a step-by-step guide that can help you with, even just triggering questions you need to think about. Things that you might not consider yourself.

Drew Radford:

Well, you mentioned people, and you also mentioned cutting. So I'm guessing you also got stuff in place for machinery?

Erica Smith:

Yeah, so I actually in Queensland completed a Weed and Seed Assessor course. So I already had a bit of a background in how to make sure your machines were clean, how they can sneak in on mud in wheel tracks and things like that on equipment.

So with my setup, I've got a gravel driveway, which is a really good unloading place. And it also means that any equipment can be washed down and kept there, and then loaded and unloaded there. So essentially I can contain my potential weed contamination to a smaller area.

Drew Radford:

You went into this basically wanting to keep the grass down and keep your freezer full, but it sounds like you've been on quite the journey. Particularly in regards to biosecurity.

Erica Smith:

Yeah, I did. It's one of those things, also, that concerns me a little in the fact that there's so many people in the same boat I was when I first started. So you buy five acres, and you want to get a couple of cows just to keep the grass down, or a couple of sheep or something like that. And they're easy enough to buy, animals from other people who've got them, without knowing what you need to do to keep yourself safe, to keep your animals safe and to keep your neighbours safe.

So having people that you can talk to and places that you can go to find information does make it a lot easier. And it's a constant learning. You're constantly refining your plan to make it better, or thinking of another way of doing something, or something that you hadn't maybe considered before. Like, I'm bringing in a new animal, what do I have to consider introducing that animal to my herd?

Or, I've decided I've got to get rid of some weeds, so I have to bring a piece of machinery to spray my paddocks because I can't do that myself. What do I need to consider? So it's just a constant refining as well.

Drew Radford:

And in that constant refining, Erica, does that come down to diseases as well? There's always something potentially new on the horizon you need to be wary of.

Erica Smith:

It absolutely does come down to diseases. There's a potential for a huge impact of a disease that was to hit Australia that would impact our industry. We've seen it before in the UK, where an outbreak in the UK restricted the availability of genetics. Something as simple as that can impact an entire breed here in Australia.

So if we had something come in, and we had to cull, there's so many industries that would be impacted by that, not just my animals potentially that I would lose, but then how do you recover from that? What happens with the export industry? What happens with our beef industry? What happens with ... livelihoods everywhere could be impacted just by one simple thing that potentially could be stopped I guess, at a border, or just by implementing good practices.

Drew Radford:

It's a big-picture responsibility, isn't it? I mean, you've gone from literally having a couple of cows to keep the grass down to being very conscious of the broader impact well beyond your gate.

Erica Smith:

You do absolutely have to be aware of the bigger picture and what else happens. So if we can all make sure that we take steps to protect not only ourselves but our neighbours, if we work together, then hopefully we can contain these things and just keep everything safe.

Drew Radford:

That's Erica Smith from Glenstrae Highlands. Assisting producers to get the heads around biosecurity needs is Richard Smith from Agriculture Victoria. He comes from a dairy background and says a biosecurity incident could have an enormous impact on the sector.

Richard Smith:

The dairy industry in Victoria has the lion's share of dairy in Australia-wide. It's got an approximate value of a couple of billion dollars, with about 60-odd percent of that being exported. So the impact of an emergency animal disease outbreak or a biosecurity incident for the dairy industry is actually quite considerable.

It'll have flow on effects not only on-farm, but throughout a lot of these rural communities, the shut down and milk tankers, transport industry would have an impact on farm store sales and everything like that, not just the impact faced by the actual dairy farmers themselves. As well as the people in the factories would have reduced hours as the low flow of milk might make its way through.

Drew Radford:

Richard, in simple terms, what is biosecurity?

Richard Smith:

Biosecurity in the basic action is trying to protect your property, your land from the impact of a disease, a pest, or a weed making their way onto the property and causing you a production loss or an economic loss. And that's probably the best way to think about it.

What we're trying to do with practising good biosecurity is managing those risks, and trying to reduce the impact those risks that could have. So for small landholders, it could be as simple as monitoring those animals that come onto your farm, or monitoring what seeds or goods that you buy to reduce the risk of weeds coming onto your property, and then you having to spend time and effort to try and manage that impact.

Drew Radford:

And Richard, you said small landholders there. Sometimes people think of themselves within isolation, but you're part of something bigger. The impact on a small landholder can have, I assume, a much bigger impact on broader industry and community.

Richard Smith:

Definitely, definitely. What we try and encourage with biosecurity is, everybody has a role to play. I use the analogy of a pack of sliced Swiss cheese. The biosecurity measures we're trying to enact gives us, and puts in place, another slice into that pack. And what we're trying to do is trying to prevent those holes lining up and preventing an impact from occurring.

So the more biosecurity measures we can put in place, even for small landholders, it's a case of where we feel comfortable that we can manage that risk. And if everybody plays a part, we can respond to that risk, plus we know that people are willing to take action on their own properties to make sure they mitigate that risk.

Drew Radford:

Richard, you said, "If everybody plays their part." So what then can small landholders do to increase biosecurity on their farms?

Richard Smith:

I tend to talk about practical, feasible, and sustainable actions suited to their property. So we know that for smaller landholders, there's often not the economic resources that some of the large, intensive agricultural operations might have. It's a case of having a look, seeing what you produce be it a couple of sheep each year, a couple of cattle.

So sometimes the most important step is just registering for a Property Identification Code commonly referred to as a PIC. That's a very important step. That allows us to know that you've got animals on your property and enables you, particularly if you've got animals, to go the next step and get NLIS tags, particularly for sheep, goats, cattle, as well as a Pig Pass in Victoria.

The next step is keeping up to date with your recording of livestock movements. That's a requirement. It also allows you to track when your busy period is. Buying in livestock is often the biggest risk you have for managing biosecurity. You often buying from sale yards or other producers.

And it's a case of being assured when you buy that animal that they're healthy, that their welfare is being looked after by the farmer who's selling it. So it's a case of asking for an Animal Health Declaration, having a look at the livestock, and when you bring them back onto your property, just quarantining them.

In biosecurity planning, were talking 14 to 21 days, but even if you just put them in a paddock or a holding yard somewhere, make sure you feed them, make sure you provide water, and just keep an eye on them, and you're just looking for any symptoms that might arise.

It also allows them to empty out, because a lot of weed seeds will take three days to pass through animals. So that enables you to make sure that weed gets deposited in that set of yards in a contained environment, so when you do release them onto your property, you don't then have to eradicate a weed over your entire property, all you have to do is manage it in a set of yards.

So, quarantine is very important. If you do get sick animals, move them away from other animals so you're not spreading that disease from nose-to-nose contact. That's a very simple thing that a lot of the big commercial guys try and do, but it's also quite feasible for a lot of the smaller producers because often you've got hands-on with your livestock a lot more often.

Make sure that your feed and water isn't being contaminated, that's a big thing. So if you're buying in feed, or you're buying in hay, making sure that you ask for Fodder Declarations. That you store those feedstuffs in an environment where you're not going to have rats, and mice, and other pests getting to them and causing spoilage.

The next thing is protecting your border, so making sure your fences are well-maintained, that they're upright, that they're secure - particularly if you've got nose-to-nose contact over fence lines, between neighbours. You could plant trees, you could double-fence. Just try and put an exclusion zone off them to prevent that nose-to-nose contact.

Lastly, just making sure your records are up-to-date. It's really important to keep accurate records. If you've given animal health treatments, if you've moved them off your property, if you've had cases of sickness or if you've called, and vets record all that. And those are the sort of things that small landholders can do day-to-day that aren't time intensive, but also don't cost that much.

Drew Radford:

And lastly, Richard, in terms of people coming and going onto the farm, and vehicles coming and going, I'm guessing that really shouldn't just be something that big operators need to be concerned about - that'd be a small landholder operator concern as well.

Richard Smith:

Definitely, definitely. One of the most important steps is having a conversation first. There's no point having that conversation when the people turn up on your property.

If you've got a contractor coming up, or you've got a vet coming onto your property, when you make that appointment, have a chat to them. Talk about the biosecurity measures that are in place on your property, how you can manage it, talk about where you'd like them to park, talk about coming in clean footwear - often people talk about foot baths.

It's often quite a time-intensive thing to manage foot-baths because you've got to manage the chemical, you've got to keep the foot bath clean, so you've got to keep the chemical topped up. The chemical becomes deactivated when it comes in contact with large amounts of mud and manure. A good workaround is, have a couple of spare sets of clean footwear be it steel-capped boots, be it steel-capped gum boots in common sizes, men’s and women’s even as just a couple of pairs and just keep them clean.

And Glen 20 them or use a commercial disinfectant spray in between uses, and that's often a good workaround.

And just ask them to park in a location that you feel comfortable about, by the farm shed, by the house - and don't get them to drive into your production area, so into your pastures, into your yards, things like that, just exclude them and that's a good, sensible option to manage biosecurity on a small scale.

Drew Radford:

Richard, some great insights there for helping keep not only small properties safe but the broader industry safe as well. Richard Smith, Dairy Industry Development Officer with Agriculture Victoria. Thank you for taking the time and joining us for this AgVic Talk podcast.

Richard Smith:

Thank you, Drew. It's been a pleasure.

Speaker 1:

To access biosecurity support, programs, and information from Agriculture Victoria and the RSPCA, check out the notes with this podcast season. This has been an AgVic talk and RSPCA podcast. All information is accurate at the time of release.

For more Ag Vic Talk podcasts, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/agvictalk.

Introduction with Ros Spence, Minister for Agriculture

Hello and welcome. I'm Ros Spence, Victoria's Minister for Agriculture, and I'm excited to introduce you to season eight of the AgVic Talk podcast series in collaboration with RSPCA Victoria. I start by acknowledging that I live and work on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present, along with elders from every nation across the state.

This season of AgVic Talk will cover everything you need to know about biosecurity. We'll hear from farmers from all walks of life about the types of practical things they've put in place on their properties and how you can do the same. Experts from RSPCA Victoria and Agriculture Victoria will also share their knowledge on how you can build biosecurity into your day-to-day farming practices. As we outlined in Victoria's Biosecurity Strategy, our government is committed to helping farmers take practical steps to reduce risks and keep their properties safe. It doesn't matter how many animals you have, how big or small your property is, biosecurity is everyone's business.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the farmers that have taken part in this podcast series for their enthusiasm to share their knowledge with others. I'd also like to thank the dedicated professionals from Agriculture Victoria and RSPCA Victoria, who are working hard across the state every day.

In my time as Agriculture Minister, I've been really impressed by the work they do, and I'm so proud of the valuable contribution they make to protect and promote Victoria's agriculture sector.

If you enjoy this podcast series, don't forget to follow it and share it with your family and friends. To hear previous episodes search AgVic Talk wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you.

Page last updated: 08 May 2024