Animal health matters: mudrooms, transitional areas can keep animals, people healthy

Russ Daly
Special to the Farm Forum
Columnist

“Who tracked mud all over the floor?”

Did you ever hear that as a kid?  How often were you guilty as charged?

It might have been difficult to avoid if you had a house where the back door led directly from the messy outside world into the kitchen or the living room. 

Over the years, mothers and fathers tired of cleaning up those tracked-in messes embraced the concept of the “mudroom.” For farm families in particular, a back porch or an area of the garage was designated as the place for the dirty, smelly coveralls and manure-caked boots to stay.

It’s hard to find a modern home design that doesn’t include a mudroom area, some of them very spacious with laundries and sinks. Given the state of messiness I’d be in coming home from late night vet calls, including such an area was a must when we drew up plans for our previous house. 

Functionally, mudrooms serve as transitional areas between the messy outside and the clean inside — cleaner than the outside, but dirtier than our homes’ living areas. 

Interestingly, many livestock operations utilize this mudroom/transition area concept.  With them, keeping disease-causing germs out, rather than the mess, is the goal. 

Germs can move between animal groups and farms through people movement: on clothing, boots and hands.  Having a place where people can “shed” these germs before they come into contact with animals or their spaces is critical to biosecurity and biocontainment on today’s farms. 

Perhaps the most extreme example of a transition area in livestock production is that of shower in-shower out facilities, which is a daily ritual for workers in many swine facilities.  For the rest of you, imagine entering a room where you take off and leave not only your outerwear and boots, but everything else too!  Your only route to the hog barn is through a shower stall where you scrub off any visible or invisible contamination.  Waiting for you on the other side is a clean towel and set of clothes that you don before entering the hog barn. When you’re done for the day, you reverse the process. 

Preventing the movement of germs from one set of animals to another is a numbers game: the fewer germs that get through, the less likely a disease outbreak will occur. In shower in-shower out setups, the great majority of the germ reduction likely takes place before the shower: leaving boots and coveralls is 99% of the effect. (In pig and poultry farms, that remainder is enough to be concerned about, however).   

Which brings me to something called the “Danish Entry,” a concept increasingly used by livestock producers. It’s like shower in-shower out but without the shower. Workers leave their outerwear and shoes on the “dirty” side of the entry and change into farm-specific coveralls and boots before they enter the animal space. 

The distinct feature of the Danish Entry is a bench that runs the full width of the room.  It’s a barrier to both remind and physically prevent people from waltzing directly into the animal space with contaminated footwear or coveralls. While sitting on the bench facing the dirty side, you take off your dirty boots, swing your feet over to the clean side and put on clean boots and coveralls you’ll wear in the barn. 

The transition area concept shouldn’t be considered exclusive to swine and poultry farms. If you raise dairy calves or feedlot calves in confinement, calve in a calving barn, or lamb out ewes in a lambing barn, this concept is for you too. A simple bench in your entryway can serve as the line of separation between the outside and animal environments.  If nothing else, a convenient place to change boots and coveralls before and after entering the building will drastically limit the chance of bringing new germs to those animals. 

For those operations, the transition area might, in fact, be more valuable as a way to keep you and your family healthy. Cryptosporidiosis in dairy calves, salmonella from feedlot animals, and Q Fever from ewes and does are examples of zoonotic germs that can contaminate your clothes and boots.  Washing up and leaving those dirty boots and coveralls in the barn will help ensure those germs don’t hang around to make you — or your family members — sick.

Russ Daly, DVM, is the Extension Veterinarian at South Dakota State University.  He can be reached via e-mail at russell.daly@sdstate.edu or at 605-688-5171.