As we come into the lambing season and the sun has started to shine, farms up and down the country are opening their doors to visitors.
For families and schools, this can mean a hugely enjoyable and informative day out in the countryside. For the industry, it generates both an economic opportunity and a chance to help keep the hard work and passion of UK farmers in the public eye.
One of the highlights of any trip will be getting close to animals, but it’s paramount this is done safely. Although it is rare for members of the public to become ill after a farm visit, diseases carried by livestock can pose a risk to humans. While some farmers choose not to allow access to their farms because of these risks, others look for practical ways to minimise them.
As the managing agent for FARMA (National Farmers' Retail & Markets Association), Savills sits on the national Access to Farms Forum. This group, in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive, has produced an industry code of conduct which provides simple, proportionate action that farmers can take.
The first principle of this guide assumes that all animals carry a range of microorganisms, some of which can be transmitted to people. Diseases passed from animals to humans include verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli or VTEC, one of which is E coli O157, and Cryptosporidium parvum.
Some diseases are relatively minor, others can have serious implications. While the possibility of anyone becoming ill should be reason enough for a farm to take action, it is also important to consider the potential consequences for the business in the form of lost trade, reputation, legal fines and compensation.
The main risk point is when animal faeces or saliva comes into contact with humans. This can be through direct contact, or, more commonly, by secondary contact such as from a dropped toy or doing up shoe laces after being in a livestock yard, and then transferring to the mouth. The key recommendations of the code are to limit contact with animals, have clear signage and good hand washing facilities with warm water.
If you are thinking of visiting a farm this spring, do make sure you follow all instructions relating to safety and conduct. And if you are one of the many farms intending to showcase and raise the profile of the agricultural industry, take time to read the code of conduct and look at how you can mitigate the risks in order to create a rewarding day out for all.
Read more: Visit My Farm: Industry Code of Practice