National and state agencies and institutions have identified bio-security related to animal agriculture as a matter of high priority. Backyard farms can serve as sources and vectors of pathogens; thus, it is critical that efforts to prevent or control the introduction or reintroduction of economically important animal diseases from these premises be undertaken. Since many 4-H Animal Science project animals are kept as part of backyard farms, education efforts have been carried out by researchers from UC-Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension to enhance bio-security knowledge and practices among 4-H youth who raise livestock.
The Mitigating Zoonotic and Animal Disease Risks in 4-H Animal Science through Coordinated Education and Research (MZAD) Project was a collaborative undertaking involving campus-based researchers in epidemiology and nonformal education and county-based 4-H academics and program staff. Funded by a University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Competitive Grant (2014-2016), the principal components of this project included: a bio-security education intervention with 4-H youth; and biological risk assessment on home premises and at county fairs associated with the partner county programs.
One of the main outcomes from the MZAD Project relative to the biological sampling was knowledge gained regarding the pathogen-concentration profiles of home and public settings (county fairs/livestock shows) where 4-H project animals are housed. These findings provided evidence that risks are present and can be managed; specifically, the implementation of bio-security measures should reduce the risk of exposure to fecal pathogens. Examples of these results included:
- Environmental exposure to feces as indicated by E. coli concentrations in drinking water, feed containers, and substrate/bedding was greater at fairs compared to farms.
- At both farms and fairs, observing solid material (e.g. straw) in water, stale feed, and soiled bedding was associated with detecting higher concentrations of E. coli.
- Compared to cattle, sheep and goats at fairs were significantly more likely to have Cryptosporidium or Giardia detected in feces or bedding.
- Adjusting for host species, increasing the number of animals in a pen at fairs significantly increased the odds of detecting either Cryptosporidium or Giardia in feces, and marginally increased the odds of detecting either pathogen in bedding.
Analysis of data collected from 4-H youth via a survey of bio-security practices at fairs also provided new information regarding potential risks involved with the exhibition of 4-H Animal Science project animals. These included:
- Limited use of dedicated clothing when working with animals. Street clothing is typically worn into and out of the animal areas.
- Low frequency of washing tools used to manage feces, and high frequency of sharing these tools.
- Moderate frequency of hand washing following animal contact.
Lastly, focus group interviews were held with fair administrators, 4-H staff, and 4-H volunteers for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of activities/procedures related to bio-security before, during, and after animals are at fairs. The individuals invited to the interviews had extensive knowledge and experience related to fair activities, and we sought their understanding and insights to help the research team better describe the county fair environment.
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