Being a good neighbor (and having good neighbors) is an important consideration when planning your overall herd health strategy. The impact that neighboring cattle can have on the health of your herd depends on the level of contact, the specific disease in question, and the timing of contact between herds. Nearby herds that can impact your herd’s health can range from herds comingled with yours for grazing purposes, to herds with fence-line contact with your herd, to herds with no direct contact with your cattle but within a distance that escaped cattle, wildlife, humans, and air- and water-flow could move disease-causing agents between herds. For most disease risks, more frequent and long-lasting exposure between herds carries greater risk than very occasional or short-term contact. However, even short-term contact between herds can lead to serious health problems if the exposure occurs during a time in pregnancy when either the dam or fetus is particularly vulnerable, or at an animal-age or time of year when a particular disease causes the most problems.
Viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms can cause disease when the dose of disease-causing agents overwhelms the ability of cattle to fight them. Cattle herds can fail to build good immunity to some diseases either because of certain characteristics of the germs themselves or because some disease-causing germs are rarely found in herds and herds are unlikely to build long-term immunity against germs they don’t contact. In these situations, even a small exposure may lead to many cattle becoming sick, aborting their fetuses, or having other negative consequences; and contact between herds increases this risk. In contrast, some disease-causing agents are so common in cattle populations that it is unlikely that any one herd is completely free of the organism – so contact between herds does not greatly increase the risk of many common diseases.
The germs that cause trichomoniasis (Trich) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) are examples whereby most herds are susceptible to major disease problems if exposed to cattle that carry these germs. One of the common ways to expose a herd to these diseases is by contact with neighboring herds. Other diseases such as anaplasmosis are common in many parts of the country but rare in other parts – therefore contact with neighboring herds can increase the risk for these diseases in some areas but not in other areas. And diseases such as bovine leukosis, neosporosis, and the agents that cause bovine respiratory disease and calf scours are so common that contact between herds would rarely increase the disease risk in herds that are already infected.
It is important to work with your veterinarian to devise an appropriate plan to keep your herd from being exposed to cattle that carry Trich and BVD organisms. You should also work with your veterinarian to implement a strategy to limit the negative effects of bovine respiratory disease, calf scours, and other common diseases even though you will not be able to eliminate or keep the germs associated with these diseases from your herd.
A few diseases can be passed even after cattle have died; therefore, proper carcass disposal to prevent direct contact with other cattle, spread of organisms by scavengers such as coyotes and birds, and contamination of water or soil that other animals may contact is necessary to be a good neighbor. Your veterinarian, Extension agent, or local regulatory contacts can provide you with information about proper carcass disposal.
Being a good neighbor also means that you control flies as well as toxic plants and weeds that can move from one cattle operation to another. In many situations, pest control can only be effective if all the agriculture operations in the area implement control measures; and all operations benefit from the efforts of others in the area. But even as pesticides and other chemicals intended for use on plants and animals can be important weapons to control disease and improve animal health, they also pose a toxic risk if they are not applied or disposed of properly. It is important that everyone using farm chemicals is properly trained on how chemicals should be applied to animals, plants, and premises, and also how they should be stored so that animals are not accidentally exposed to concentrated, toxic doses, and how to safely dispose of any residues and the empty containers.
In summary, being a good neighbor from an animal health perspective involves having good pasture management, animal husbandry, and animal health skills. Specifically, good neighbors use effective pest control, maintain good fences to limit unintended cross-fence exposure, and work with a veterinarian to implement vaccination and biosecurity plans for diseases that can move from one herd to another to provide protection not only to your own herd, but to decrease disease risk for other herds in the area.