For the Love of Goats
Most of us love our goats so much and want to share their awesomeness with the world. Unfortunately, that is not a risk-free proposition because there are some diseases that goats can transmit to humans — even healthy goats!
In today’s episode, we are talking to Megin Nichols, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, at the Center for Disease Control where she leads the team that investigates multi-state outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli, and other zoonotic diseases. I first heard her speak at a conference of the American Dairy Goat Association where she talked about a huge outbreak of E. coli that occurred in Connecticut when a farm decided to have an open farm day where visitors could get up close and personal with their goats.
We are talking about how you can protect yourself, as well as guests who visit your farm. In addition to that, we also talk about protecting yourself when delivering baby goats, butchering chickens, and doing just about anything that involves poop or bodily fluids that come from livestock.
Listen right here by clicking on the player above, or on your favorite platform:
Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode. I am very excited today to be joined by Meghan Nichols, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, from the Center for Disease Control, where she serves as the lead for the team that investigates multistate outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli resulting from exposure to animals, pet products, and raw milk. Prior to joining the CDC, Dr. Nichols worked in her home state at the New Mexico Department of Health for five years, and she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from New Mexico State University, a doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University, and a Master of Public Health in Food Safety and Biosecurity from the University of Minnesota. Her areas of interest include zoonotic disease, food safety, and pediatric health. Welcome to the show today, Dr. Nichols!
Megin Nichols 1:09
Thank you so much, and I am so excited to be here. So, really appreciate the time, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Deborah Niemann 1:16
Oh, thank you. This is gonna be really helpful to me, and I know to a lot of my listeners, because I get emails from people, a lot of times who say, “My goat has X,” you know. “Is that something that they can give to me?” And I’m not a vet, and I’m not a human doctor, and so I don’t know, and I like to go to the experts for that sort of thing. So I recently was looking at some notes I had taken at the American Dairy Goat Association Conference in 2017. I had copious notes from the talk that you did on zoonotic diseases, and got very excited about having you on the show. So the first thing is, if you could just give people a brief introduction to the work of veterinary epidemiologists at the CDC, who are working on human illness outbreaks that are linked to animal contact,
Megin Nichols 2:09
You got it. So, I think I actually have the world’s coolest job. You know, being a veterinarian, most people—including my parents growing up—I think we all had this idea that I was probably going to grow up and work at one of the local veterinary practices, and, you know, enjoy that one-on-one patient contact and interacting with clients and owners. And I did that a lot in high school, which was really rewarding. Working at the vet instilled in me a real passion for that work. But, I always had wanted to have this herd perspective. So I was also very curious, kind of like your listeners, where we’d have a disease in a particular animal, and the veterinarian would say something to the owner about, “Well, you really need to make sure you’re washing your hands with this one,” or, you know, “If there’s somebody who has a particular condition in your household that makes their immune system weakened and not able to fight off some of these diseases, then what we should do is make sure that that person is not caring for the animal while they’re ill, or while this is going on.” And so early on, I would ask the vets a lot of questions and really research. It wasn’t until veterinary school where I found… There was a person who came to talk to us about an outbreak she had investigated. And I just happened to be a student sitting in the audience and learned that this was actually a job. There were actually veterinarians who worked at CDC—which is, you know, thought of as a human health agency—that was looking at any relatedness between human health and animal health and even environmental health, and recognizing that all of them were connected. So, if you have healthy animals, oftentimes you’ll have healthy people who interact with them. And maybe that’s because of the food products, or it’s because they’re pets and they share our homes and our living environments. And it really impressed upon me that that was something that a veterinarian could do that would help more than just animals, that would actually help the people around them. And that was very appealing to me, although I didn’t necessarily think I would get that job. But it introduced me, at least, to this community of veterinarians and others who were working in this area. And since my time at CDC, I’ve found that there’s actually a lot of vets who work at this agency and others, and at CDC in particular, it’s kind of like the sky’s the limit. I would also never think that there would be vets who worked on natural disasters. But we have some veterinarians at CDC who do that. We have a lot of veterinarians who work on diseases that can go between the people and animals, everything from influenza, to something like my job, which is mostly E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter. But it’s really impressive to me, and I think one of the world’s coolest jobs to be able to take that veterinary degree and use it in a way that helps multiple species.
Deborah Niemann 4:51
Awesome. And so what would you say are some of the benefits of learning about agriculture, including learning to care for animals, and the benefits of the human animal bond?
Megin Nichols 5:02
Yeah. Well, growing up, I was around every four-legged creature I could possibly get my hands on—as probably many of your listeners were, too. And I recognized how important that was to me growing up as a kid, especially in a very rural community where there weren’t a lot of people. The animals probably outnumbered the people. But it was such a great responsibility to take care of animals. And then, in return, I felt like many times, whether it was, you know, the horse we were caring for, or the cattle that we were working with, they cared for you as well by producing milk and meat and fiber or wool in certain examples. And I loved it. And I recognized that that was such a core part of my upbringing and my value, and I was fortunate in that I didn’t have an experience where I got sick. And so that really intrigued me, because that human-animal bond is so important, but it’s really hard to maintain in the event that you develop an illness. And that illness might come from a pet. And looking back on that experience, I think I really recognize and credit my mom with this, because she knew how much I loved being out with the animals. And I credit her largely with allowing me to have those experiences. But also, when I came into the house, she would say, “Take off your boots, and wash your hands.” And I credit her with this ability to interact with the animals and still not get sick and be healthy. And so I recognize that I want others to be able to have that rich experience of learning to care for the animals, especially children, and engage in those care activities, know where their food comes from, participate in the responsibilities, but also to do so in a way that allows them and their family to be healthy.
Deborah Niemann 6:48
And that is a great segue into our first topic, which is agritourism. And that is actually the topic that you were talking about at the ADGA conference when I heard you speak. And so many of us, you know, we want to share our animals with the world, we want to invite people out to the farm so that they can see where their food comes from and everything, but it’s not without risk. One of my big concerns, like, why I never wanted to do goat yoga: My thought was, “I’m gonna get sued if somebody trips over a goat and breaks their arm. And it’s gonna be big; it’s gonna be millions, because it’s gonna be a concert violinist.” Anyway, it never occurred to me, like, that there was a disease aspect until I heard you talk. And then I was like, “Oh my gosh! Yeah, goats just let it fly when they’ve got to poop, and they’re gonna go poop on somebody’s yoga mat.” So do you want to talk a little bit about some of the things we need to be thinking about with agritourism operations?
Megin Nichols 7:46
Absolutely. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you said agritourism is something that a lot of people are interested in. And it is everything from goat yoga, to maybe you have an event where you’re inviting people onto your property to pick pumpkins, or to pick apples, and the animals are there on the property. And people want to engage with animals, especially if that’s not something they’re used to. And I think it can be really valuable, especially for those who don’t have an opportunity to see animals and be around them on a regular basis. It’s novel, and it’s unique. And I think that’s something the agriculture community can offer is that opportunity. But you’re right, it’s not without risks. And I think that’s one thing that, if you’re unaware of the risks, can be kind of scary. And, when I look at the outbreaks that have happened—and these would be human illness outbreaks—at a petting zoo, or another venue, and those who are putting on the event not anticipating some of those risks. And the outcomes of those can be really quite disastrous, and very awful for both the people and for the farmers. And one of the reasons I say that is because it’s one of those that often happens after the fact; that’s where the education happens, where there’s sick people and you’re having to take action. Like you said, some of those illnesses may result in lawsuits, in addition to things like loss of life, or really significant medical illness.
Megin Nichols 9:15
Now, all that being said, one of the reasons I enjoy my job is because I think that there are some really great things that those who wish to provide this experience to the public and others can do to help mitigate that risk, or, by gathering information like you did, they might decide that that particular risk—maybe it’s the risk of goat yoga—isn’t necessarily for them. Maybe there’s another way that they can provide this experience, and do so in a way that’s more safe and allows people to remain healthy.
Deborah Niemann 9:47
So what are some of the diseases that somebody could possibly pick up, or some of the pathogens that somebody could pick up, just visiting a farm?
Megin Nichols 9:56
Yeah. Well, if you look at food-producing animals and livestock—and so the ones that I’m thinking of right now are cattle, sheep, and goats—all of those animals can carry certain germs in their intestines, which might not make them sick, but can make us sick as humans. So, when I think about that, I often think about E. coli. I also think about Campylobacter. And I also think about Salmonella. So those are some of the “gut bugs” that reside in the intestines of these animals and don’t make them sick. But anywhere the animals live and roam and poop, those germs can be present. So, it might be something like, the animal was present in this barn or this environment, pooped in the environment, and maybe the poop was removed but there still is the potential for some of those germs to hang out. And you can’t see them with the naked eye. And then, I’ve noticed that some people might come in and hold events in the same area where the animals live and roam, after the animals have been removed. I noticed that there’s a lot of interest in wedding banquets being held, or agricultural events. And, when you’re not aware of that risk, and the cleaning and sanitation isn’t necessarily done, it can really impact the health of some people. And with E. coli in particular, we’ve seen some outbreaks in 2015 and 2016 that were pretty large and caused some some very significant human health impacts and outbreaks, especially among children.
Deborah Niemann 11:27
So… Have you heard of goat poop bingo?
Megin Nichols 11:31
I have not heard of goat poop bingo. But now I’m curious to hear what that’s about.
Deborah Niemann 11:36
People have sent me, like, videos from YouTube of this for—and it… I know where you’re going to go with it. So, it’s usually schools that do this. And they create a bingo card on the grass outside the school. And people guess where the goat’s gonna poop, and somebody brings the goat out there and just walks them around, up and down the bingo card, to see where it poops.
Megin Nichols 12:01
Wow. You know, that’s one I hadn’t heard of before. That is an interesting play on things. I mean, I could definitely see that happening. Now, one of the things that I’m always interested in—and I think my brain likes to work this way, because it’s kind of like a puzzle—is how do you take an event like that, which sounds like it’s actually entertaining… There’s probably, I hope, an education component, whether it’s, you know, probability of where the goat’s gonna poop, or maybe it’s just learning about the goat itself, you know, even learning about germs and what we can do to prevent them. And how do you take something like that and actually, make sure that there is no risk to either the goat or to human health in that instance? And we’ve seen these kinds of events that happen, and that’s an interesting, interesting event. I will say, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, if any of your listeners are interested, they have a compendium, or it’s like a book of recommendations, that take some of the lessons learned from outbreaks and other events and break it down into bite-sized pieces for animal venue operators. So that might be the owner who’s going out to do the goat bingo, to those at schools who might be hosting the event, and then also some information for parents and children. And so I think that’s a great resource. It’s one we actually use here at CDC in the event that we’re either looking at an outbreak or looking at ways to prevent an outbreak.
Deborah Niemann 13:30
Okay. And then, other than the types of things that people can get from poop, like E. coli and stuff like that, another thing I know that’s, like, really important that I always tell people is that you really should always wear gloves when you’re attending goat births. Especially, like, if there’s any possibility that you are pregnant, that is like absolutely positively—because there are zoonotic diseases that can cause illness in humans and goats both. Did you want to mention some of those?
Megin Nichols 14:03
Yeah, so one of the ones that really comes to mind around this is Q fever. And that is an illness that, especially as veterinarians, if you were called out into the field to assist with a birth of livestock—and that could be cattle, sheep, or goats—that you really want to be aware of, so that you can take those precautions. And, in that instance, absolutely gloves over bare hands anytime. In the event that somebody is pregnant, we actually usually have a recommendation that they not be involved in that process, just because the risk of something happening to the baby in that instance is really too great a risk for us to come up with measures that would say, “Okay, these are measures that you can take and be 100% safe.” So that’s actually one of our recommendations. Is there another veterinarian? Is there somebody else who could attend to that while you’re pregnant? And if not, we’re actually, with Q fever, wearing respiratory protection that you have been fit-tested to wear and to go out and assist with the birth is something that’s needed. And we’ve encountered this before in actually some goat farms, that they want to hold an educational opportunity for goat owners to learn about the birthing process and how to assist in goat birthing. And so, that’s something that I’ll always advise, because as a business and a business owner, or even a farm owner, one of the other hats you have to wear is being mindful of the risk to your business and your livelihood in the event that somebody could get sick and suffer an illness. So, that’s one of the reasons we advise, you know, really brush up on those things before anyone comes onto your farm. Be aware of those risks. Make sure that the people coming onto your farm are aware of those risks. And then make sure that you have any precautions that you need to allow them to employ ready to go—everything from simple hand washing to, as you indicated, having gloves if that might be something that’s needed.
Deborah Niemann 15:55
And I know sometimes people think that like, “Oh, if you’re used to their germs and stuff, you won’t get sick.” But one of the things that happened to us a couple years ago is my husband was butchering chickens. They were all very healthy chickens, you know, and he put his hand into the chicken to pull the intestines out, and cut his finger on a bone.
Megin Nichols 16:15
Deborah Niemann 16:16
And, he just kept going, you know, just rinsed the blood off and kept going. And a week later, he had a red streak that went up his arm.
Megin Nichols 16:24
Deborah Niemann 16:25
Whole arm was in pain. And so he went to the doctor, of course, and was put on heavy-duty antibiotics, because he now had this systemic infection that came from just a cut. And so, I’m especially aware of that. And, you know, ever since that happened with him, like, oh my goodness, you always want to make sure that, especially if you have a cut or something on your hand, to wear gloves if you’re doing anything with any body fluids with any animals.
Megin Nichols 16:53
I think that’s a really good simple talking point. If you’re doing anything with body fluids of any animals, you’re going to probably need to wear gloves. I like that. And you’re right. I mean, chickens are known to carry Salmonella and some other germs that can potentially make us sick if we come into contact with them, so being aware of that is very, very important, and taking those precautions. And I give a lot of talks about this exact topic. And inevitably, every single time I give one of these talks, someone in the audience will say, “Well, I’ve been around chickens”—or goats, or kind of take your pick of animal—”my entire life, and I have never gotten sick.” In fact, my own father is probably the king of saying this. And, in the instance of my own dad, I’ll say, “Dad, you mean to tell me you’ve never had diarrhea once in your entire life, not once where you maybe didn’t know where it came from?” Or, you’ve been that meticulous about your hand washing and, you know, taking off your boots when you come inside, and all of those things every single time? And changing clothes if you’ve been, you know, out working? And I joke with him that, if that’s the case, he must be a medical miracle. Because essentially, if you look at the science around some of these really common germs that my team works on, if you are infected with E coli, for example, you might have really short-term immunity to that specific E. coli that you were infected with. But it’s short term, and it’s going to go away. So there’s no guarantee that if you’re exposed again, you know, a month or two later, that you might not get sick. And for Salmonella in things like chickens: Chickens can carry a wide variety of different types of Salmonella. So there’s no guarantee that the type of Salmonella you get infected with on one day will be the same as the type of Salmonella that the chicken’s carrying that you get infected with, you know, later, and that immunity is not going to transfer over. So, fun fact, you do not develop long-lasting immunity to these bugs. And it’s actually one of the reasons we don’t currently have a Salmonella vaccine that people can take and never ever again get Salmonella. It’s just really tough to develop that long-lasting immunity.
Deborah Niemann 19:05
Yeah, and it’s funny because my daughter actually got her PhD in bioanalytical chemistry at Colorado State. And she did her PhD, her dissertation, on antimicrobial resistance. And so she played with Salmonella on a regular basis. And I wanted to send her poop from our chickens to test them. And she said, “Well, I could, but just because they don’t have Salmonella today doesn’t mean they’re not gonna have it tomorrow.” So, there’s no guarantee, like, and, like you said, they will be completely healthy, but they can still make you sick with their poop and other bodily fluids.
Megin Nichols 19:45
Exactly. And, you know—first of all, I’ll say “Go Rams” as a Colorado State University fellow Ram. Sounds like you have an incredibly talented daughter. But it’s true. I think that’s something that she hit right on the head. Animals may not carry these germs all the time. In fact, infection with them can be transient. And so, a lot of operators will actually ask, “Well, can’t I test my chickens?” Or “Can’t I test my goats or cattle, and if they’re negative, then people can come on the farm and interact with them because I’ve gotten that negative test.” Well, just because they’re negative one day, as your daughter noted, doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be positive a couple days, a week, a month later, because we know that things can kind of sweep through the herd or the environment. And so, a negative test doesn’t necessarily guarantee that.
Megin Nichols 20:33
And then, I’m very intrigued by your daughter’s PhD dissertation on antimicrobial resistance, because I think that’s another hot topic for us that we look at when it comes to outbreaks, is we are looking to see if any of the germs that people get from animals have had antibiotic resistance noted, and and if so, is it a type of antibiotic resistance that would make an infection harder to treat with antibiotics, either in people or in animals? And we have had outbreaks that have happened before—I’m thinking of a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak—and we noticed that there were children who were getting sick. Some of these children had had contact with calves during livestock shows or other events. Another was actually a farm that had received animals, and they noticed that the calves were dying, and nothing that the veterinarian was treating with was really working to help the calves. And when the kids got sick, we were getting calls from doctors that were saying, “This is a really resistant Salmonella,” meaning the antibiotics that we normally use to treat these infections are not working. This bug has developed resistance against them. And so that’s something that is also always in the back of my mind when I’m talking to producers. And we’ll get the question, “Well, can I just treat my backyard chickens, or my animals, with antibiotics to get rid of the salmonella? Get rid of the E. coli?” And, you know, while the antibiotics may help to treat that, or to get rid of it, it actually is probably bad for the animal because it’s upsetting the natural flora of their gut. And it can create antibiotic resistance so that that bacteria, in the event that it did cause disease, including in a person, we wouldn’t have the tools that we normally use to treat it. So, I think that that’s another interesting point. I’m fascinated by your daughter’s work.
Deborah Niemann 22:21
Yeah, it was very interesting. I loved talking to her about it when she was working on it.
Deborah Niemann 22:27
So, when I heard you talk in Atlanta a few years ago, you told the story of this goat farm in Connecticut which really got my attention, because it was a huge outbreak and there was no food involved at all. It was just this farm that opened up their gates for an open farm day in kidding season, and… Do you want to pick up the story from there about what happened?
Megin Nichols 22:56
Yeah, so we got involved when the Connecticut Health Department called us and they said, “You know, we have several people, including a lot of children, who’ve been infected with this particular strain of E. coli. This is more than what we’d expect to see in the state of Connecticut at this time. And all of these people are reporting having gone to this goat farm recently.” And some people attended a kidding event where they were actually learning about the kidding process. And others had gone for a farm day, especially the children; they had gone and attended an event where you could go in and actually walk into the pens with the kids, touch them, pet them, take pictures with them, engage with them. And then, there was also a farm store where you could go and you could, you know, purchase samples of caramels, or you could buy some soap. And you could take that, and then they had some picnic tables set up so that you could actually eat on the farm. And when we heard about this, we thought this is something that is very concerning, and we want to learn more and see what we can do to, of course, stop any future human illnesses, but also see, you know, what’s going on. And so, we worked very closely with the Connecticut Department of Health and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, because, of course, they’re the ones who have boots on the ground and who are very aware of their community and their producers and often have that relationship. The local health department was also engaged in trying to figure this out. And then, this was one of the unique opportunities where the state invited some of the team members from CDC to join the investigation. So a couple members of my team went out to see what we could learn.
Megin Nichols 24:36
And it was interesting, because the main business was a goat dairy. It actually… The piece about allowing people to come on to the farm to learn about kidding, and children to have this agriculture experience, was actually something that was on the side. So, as you noted, the dairy process was inspected. It was pasteurized milk that was being produced, and there was really no contamination found associated with any of the dairy or the food products. What was found is that a lot of people were coming in, and were really getting up close and personal, if you will, with the kids. And, you know, I’ve seen how cute they are; I can understand how that might have been hard to resist. But especially really young, uh, young human children were getting in there with the kids and having really close contact. And they were doing things like laying down in the bedding, where there was fecal pellets, and then getting up, and one of the things that we also noticed was that there was not a handwashing station available. So then, if somebody proceeded to either go to the farm store and purchase a food item, or subsequently to have brought a lunch and sit on one of the picnic tables and eat it, it’s unlikely that they would have had any hand hygiene. And we know it’s, you know, hand to mouth. If your hand is contaminated with the germ, and you’re putting food or anything else in your mouth, you have the potential to ingest that. And so, looking at that, we really think that that is one of the main risk factors, was that a lot of these children had the opportunity to go into the pens, to climb on the hay bales, to touch the goats, to have a lot of exposure to the manure in the feces, and no opportunity to conduct the hand hygiene that would be necessary to prevent them from then ingesting the bacteria. And it was a really intense experience, I think, for all of those involved, because, like I said, the producer was really doing this as a part of the community and didn’t realize that he was putting his dairy business at risk by allowing this activity and not having things in place to prevent people from getting sick.
Deborah Niemann 26:42
Yeah, I still remember the photo that you showed that someone had posted on Facebook of their child laying down in a pen with goats. And I was just like, “Oh my gosh!” Like, ugh, that’s not good. You know, because—
Megin Nichols 26:56
Deborah Niemann 26:57
—there’s poop in that straw! And a small child is, like, rolling around in the hay. They’re coming in contact with poop, you know?
Megin Nichols 27:06
Deborah Niemann 27:06
And which, you know, if you have goats, that happens, but then you come in the house and you wash your hands. And you don’t get sick.
Megin Nichols 27:13
Exactly, exactly. And, you know, I can honestly say—you know, being a child and being around animals and loving the goats, especially the pygmy goats—I think I can honestly say that I knew enough, basically from education by my parents, to not roll around in the manure. And I remember one of our dogs did it once, and my mom was like, “That’s it. The dog has got to have a bath before they can come in the house.” And I think that’s something that many of our goat producers and other producers can really help with. So, if they do have people who are talking to them, either about goat ownership, or about visiting a farm, or they’re coming onto your farm, that education piece is so key. So, in addition to learning just about goats in general, about their really friendly personalities, about the food and fiber that they can produce, I think another component is, you know: “Goats, just like people, can carry germs. And those germs can make us sick. And here’s some really simple things that we can do to prevent ourselves from getting sick, and to also keep the goats healthy.” And I think that’s something that, as you noted, many producers have that awareness, but somebody coming from, you know, an environment where they’re not exposed to goats in agriculture, they might not have that same intuition of, “Hey, it’s probably a bad idea to roll around in the straw, because I’m gonna get fecal material on me. And, if I don’t have an opportunity to change immediately and to shower, I could potentially put myself or my child at risk.”
Deborah Niemann 28:37
Yeah. And the saddest thing—I mean, in addition to, like, all of these people getting sick, because I remember it was a really high number—also, that farm pretty much lost their business. Because their sales of all their products just plummeted overnight, even though it had nothing to do with anything they ate. It’s just the the public’s perception of that farm was so negative that they quit buying, like, even the goat milk soap. Which, like, you can’t get it from soap.
Megin Nichols 29:10
Yeah. Yeah, and I, you know, I think that really is at the heart of it. As you noted, the products were examined and the process by which they produced some of the products was looked at. And, as you indicated, there was no risk of germs from that. But, just because of the announcement of the outbreak and the association, people were really scared. And that can be pretty detrimental. Because again, we don’t want people to be scared about animals. We just want them to be empowered to make some healthy choices. And I think we see that working on outbreaks, unfortunately, anytime there’s an outbreak. The mention of a certain product; it really does cause some fear. And I think that that’s why your listening audience and others are really uniquely suited to share that kind of information about, you know—you’ve been around animals for a while, you have that experience, and you also know how to keep yourselves and your family healthy around that. And so, anytime you see those types of things in the news, or mentioned, I think that that can be really helpful, is to share that knowledge and perhaps dispel myths about, you know, what’s contaminated and has germs and what probably doesn’t.
Deborah Niemann 30:20
So, one of the big takeaways that I had… In addition to not giving the people the opportunity to have direct contact with feces, the other really important thing is also to have a handwashing station if you do have your farm open to the public. Is there anything else that people should do to avoid something like this happening if they have an event?
Megin Nichols 30:44
Absolutely. I think the other thing is to separate any food areas from any animal areas. So, in the outbreak I mentioned, people did have the opportunity to go into the farm store and buy some snacks. And then they had the ability to carry those around the farm and consume them while they were in the barn with the goats. And I think there’s there’s two concerns why you don’t do that. Number One, as you probably know better than I do: Goats are very curious and very nibbly creatures, and it may not be the best idea for them to get ahold of a caramel or other product. But also, again, there’s a really high potential of anything that is that hand to mouth behavior, there’s an opportunity to get sick. So, that includes everything from eating food in an animal area, chewing gum in animal area, smoking in animal areas—any hand to mouth behavior. So anyone who’s thinking about doing this, I would say definitely separate those areas. Handwashing is key. And then, especially for children, I really think that this is a great opportunity for kids to interact, but being really thoughtful and walking through your farm through the eyes of a child—and through that wonder and curiosity and also some of those wandering fingers—can be really, really helpful in trying to figure out, “Okay, are there areas where children might put their fingers that could cause injury, whether it’s from a nibbly animal, or from, you know, a pen or a corral or a gate? What’s the walkway condition look like? Are there weather or environment conditions that I need to be aware of in terms of heavy rains that might cause pathways to become either muddy and slippery, or to get manure on them and then people might get it on their boots?” Making sure that you take that perspective. And then, there’s some really great tools out there. So again, the National Association of State Public Health Vets has the compendium, but, if you contact your local ag extension vet, or even go on the web, there are checklists that are available. So, if you are considering holding this type of event, no matter how small, you can actually look at the checklist and kind of tick off “Do I have a handwashing station”—there’s some creative ideas about how to create one if you don’t have a fixed one on your property. “What’s some education information that I can post,” so visitors are aware that they need to wash their hands, um, “How do I direct traffic flow,” so that people aren’t eating in the animal areas. And I think that that’s kind of a really simple way to digest some of that, and will help people be informed to help them make choices to protect their health, and to help our producers and farmers and others try and keep the public and their animals healthy and safe.
Deborah Niemann 33:25
Thanks. This has really been great information! I know when I heard you in 2017, I wished that I could share your information with more people, and I’m really excited now that I got the opportunity to do that. Did you have any final thoughts you wanted to share?
Megin Nichols 33:41
You know, I just really appreciate the opportunity to be here today. I think the more that we can engage in these kinds of dialogues, and the more tools you have—from resources on the web, to talking with your local veterinarian, to listening to some of these podcasts—and the more we have that opportunity to share tools and share information…. You know, there’s nothing really fancy or technologically advanced about a lot of this; it really is just kind of basic, practical knowledge. And the more we can share that, the more that we can continue to have these really life-enriching experiences and do so in a way that people don’t get sick.
Deborah Niemann 34:15
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you so much!
Megin Nichols 34:19
Yeah! Thank you again for the opportunity. This has been great.
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