Santa Cruz 4-H participates in research study to mitigate zoonotic diseases in 4-H animal science projects

The Issue

National and state agencies have identified biosecurity related to animal agriculture as a matter of high priority, and the United States Department of Agriculture has a long-term goal of safeguarding the animal production industry from outbreaks of animal disease (APHIS, 1998, 2010). Many 4-H Animal Science project animals are kept as part of backyard farms. Data collected during a study of California 4-H youth revealed the presence of numerous biosecurity risks. For example, 66% of project animals are housed in “backyard herds” with same or mixed species (Smith, 2009). Respondents indicated they traveled with their project animal to an average of two project meetings where mixing with other animals occurred and quarantine procedures were limited (Smith, 2009). These risks highlight the need to develop and provide education resources to 4-H youth, volunteers, and staff to help mitigate potential health and financial impacts.

What Has ANR Done?

Participating in the UC ANR grant, “Mitigating Zoonotic and Animal Disease Risks in 4-H Animal Science Projects through Coordinated Education”, Quail Creek and Scotts Valley 4-H members in Santa Cruz County developed knowledge and skills relative to mitigating livestock biosecurity and disease by using a three-phased education and sampling process. The first phase focused on educating youth about biosecurity and disease risk. In the second phase, the youth applied biosecurity practices at fairs and exhibitions. Fecal load assessments were taken at homes and fairs to compare the practices of youth receiving education compared to those who did not. In the third phase, participants identified the risks associated with fecal pathogen loads measured in animal samples collected at the fairs and developed biosecurity best-management practices for youth exhibitors.

The Payoff

Youth research leads to fair changes

Participants in this project identified several risky practices at the Santa Cruz County fair developed solutions and presented their findings to the Fair Board. Of note was the potential for biosecurity risks to animals and humans relative to the location and poor drainage of the livestock wash stalls. Located in an area that is highly accessible to vehicles, strollers, fair-goers, and food delivery, the wash stalls create a potentially high risk of exposure to biosecurity problems to fair-goers. Participants presented their findings to the Fair Board along with potential solutions and associated costs. The findings have prompted the Fair Board to take action to address these risks.

Clientele Testimonial

"After working on this project, I got a real sense that members and leaders didn't understand the importance of biosecurity. Most people work on raising a good product and winning in the show ring, but forget the importance of cleanliness and reducing bacteria in the environment." Project Coordinator


Supporting Unit: Santa Cruz County

Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty,
County Director: San Benito County
Science Literacy Youth Development Advisor: Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties