Best Management Practices for Livestock and Farm Operations to stop the spread of a Virus (like COVID-19)

Farmers inspecting field
April 14, 2020

Lincoln, Neb. —Not only is continuity of business important for farmers and ranchers during the COVID-19 pandemic, food production has been classified as essential and should continue. Continuing production in a pandemic situation requires that people in agriculture carefully consider how COVID-19 infections may impact the operations in which they work. As plans to continue business are made, remember these details about COVID-19 transmission:

  • COVID-19 is spread mainly between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet)
  • The virus is believed to be spread through contact with droplets made when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and may live airborne for a period of time
  • COVID-19 can live on surfaces like plastic, stainless steel and cardboard for an extended period of time (24+ hours)
  • COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms

To protect yourself and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established guidelines that include:

  • Staying home when possible. If you must go out, avoid close contact and maintain at least 6 feet of distance between individuals
  • Practicing good hand hygiene including frequent washing and sanitizing
  • Avoiding touching of the face/eyes/nose/mouth
  • Covering coughts and sneezes etiquette including coughing and sneezing into elbow or tissue and then immediately washing hands
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others

Limiting transmission is critical to protect individuals who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19 (65+ years of age or people with underlying health conditions). Everyone must minimize their risk of becoming infected while also working to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Using this information, transmission risk can be reduced during essential operations and help ensure continuity.

The following are guidelines and recommendations that can be used to implement COVID-19 control in agricultural systems.

  1. Stay Informed
    Follow federal, state, and local direction to reduce personal risk for contracting COVID-19 and to limit further transmission if you or your employees become infected. Stay informed at
  2. Make a Plan
    Make a written plan by addressing the following (See Table 1 for example):
    • What are the essential activities of the operation? (Feeding, farm work, etc.)
    • Who is primarily responsible for completing those activities?
    • How those activities are accomplished? (What basic skills are needed for the activity)
    • Who is available to complete those tasks if the primary individual becomes unavailable?
    • How may essential activities have to be modified if primary individuals are unavailable?
    Write down the plan in as much detail as possible and make team members aware of the plan to insure continuity of business if COVID-19 infections begin to have a direct impact that disrupts normal management channels. Consider worst case scenarios for this situation (e.g. all team members are in quarantine due to exposure) and how essential operations can continue (e.g. asymptomatic team members self-quarantine at the operation to continue operations) and the logistics required for that plan.
Table 1. Plan example for a feedlot in Table Format
Essential Activity Primary Individual/Team How? (Basic Skills Needed) Secondary Individual/Team Training Needed Modifications if Primary is Unavailable
Feeding Person 1 Feed truck operation, even distribution of feed in bunks, consistent time of feed delivery Person 2 Feed truck operation Diet changes to offset inconsistency in distribution/time of feed delivery
Sick Animal Care Persons 3 and 4 Identification and diagnosis of sick cattle, Treatment protocols, BQA Either Person 3 or 4 and the feed truck driver Identification of sick cattle Feed truck driver will identify pens or individual sick cattle and report to hospital crew
  1. Separate Duties
    Develop plans to separate the teams/family members/hired personnel to prevent transmission.
    • Separate duties and use personal distancing of employees while at work and not at work. Examples – processing livestock, filling planters, brandings, etc.
  2. Hold Virutal Meetings
    Consider conducting employee meetings virtually – ZOOM, FaceTime, others. If in person, follow CDC guidelines
  3. Clean High Touch Areas
    Limit use of common areas-use only with social distancing and hygiene guidelines going into and coming out of high touch areas, like meeting rooms, common kitchens, common restrooms, sinks, refrigerators, etc.
  4. Clean Vehicles, Tractors, Implements, and Tools.
    Place hygiene supplies (hand sanitizer, disinfect and/or disinfectant wipes in equipment and other shared areas (e.g. shop). When changing operators/users – when entering and leaving or before and after use.
    • Disinfect hands using sanitizer.
    • Disinfectant all high touch areas (e.g steering wheel, control handles, door handles, syringes, etc.)
    • Consider disposable covers for porous surfaces like seats and other upholstered surfaces.
    • Allow for 3 hour down-time to allow virus to die in confined spaces (e.g. cabs), if possible.
    • For more information specific to trucks, see for applicable information.
  5. Communicate with People Coming to your Location
    (consultants, veterinarians, dealers, mechanics, etc.)

    Set up appointments that include time, meeting place, and a plan for transmission control (social distancing, cleaning/disinfection, personal protective equipment, etc)

    Confirm that individuals are feeling well and have not traveled to high risk locations prior to departure for visit.
  6. Coordinate Delivery of Products and iInputs
    (feed, medicine, supplements, pesticides, others).
    • Develop non-contact delivery methods (e.g. drop off locations)
      • Wash hands after handling packaging, consider wearing gloves.
      • Consider disinfection of non-porous packaging.
    • For deliveries that require person-to-person interaction:
      • Develop physical reminders for social distancing (tape on floor, barriers, etc)
      • Practice hand sanitizing/washing before and after interaction
    • Inventorying and back-up planning essential.
      • Identify essential supplies and consider increasing inventory
      • Develop contingency plans if essential supplies become unavailable
Table 2. Example for a cropping operation
Essential Activity Primary Individual/Team How? (Basic Skills Needed) Secondary Individual/Team Training Needed Modifications if Primary is Unavailable
Tractor driver for planting Person 1 Drive tractor and understanding of precision ag equipment. If no precision ag, skillset in planting with markers. Person 2 Understanding of precision ag equipment. If no precision ag equipment, ability to plant with markers. Custom hire planting.

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