Farmer and vet decision-making on infectious disease control on dairy and sheep farms
Since 2013, one of the key themes within our Ruminant Population Health Research Group has been the study of how farmers and vets make decisions on infectious disease control.
In particular, we have explored the relationship between farmers and vets, how they work together, and the impact this has on the measures taken to combat infections. Our findings have contributed to the formation of beneficial new farmer-vet networks and resources.
Establishing a picture of current collaboration and biosecurity
Our research has focused on several key questions, enabling us to create a clear picture of the measures being taken, and the relationships that exist, on British farms today:
- What are the motivators and barriers for farmers and vets in relation to the uptake of biosecurity measures and vaccination on dairy farms?
- What is the expert opinion on best practice for biosecurity and vaccination on dairy farms? How effective and practical do experts perceive current measures to be?
- What are sheep farmers’ beliefs and opinions on the current role of their vet? Do they believe vets have a role in providing advice to improve the health and productivity of their flock?
- What are vets’ views on their role on dairy and sheep farms?
Identifying missed opportunities and new challenges
Our research has consistently found that relationships between farmers and vets aren’t as strong or collaborative as they could be, with missed opportunities to work together to benefit the health of herds and flocks. Key findings include:
- Famers and vets agree that preventative advice on farms is provided on an ad-hoc basis. Sheep farmers consider inconsistent service, high turnover and lack of sheep farming expertise among vets as key barriers to closer collaboration
- Farmers consider themselves experts and are often unable to see where vets could add value because of a lack of records. Vets feel that they aren’t promoting the preventative ethos enough, both because they lack marketing skills and also because they feel farmers don’t need their services
- Vets often struggle to establish sufficient organisational or business arrangements for providing advisory services. They also experience competition from both within and outside the profession. Our work suggests that vets’ inability to market their services, along with a feeling that they can’t influence farmers’ behaviour and a lack of opportunities to offer advice is having an impact on their motivation – and vice versa. This raises the question of whether the farm veterinary profession is at risk of de-professionalisation
- Vets and farmers may view biosecurity through incompatible frames
- Some of the most effective biosecurity measures were also rated as the least practical by farmers and vets through expert opinion, including keeping a closed herd and avoiding nose-to-nose contact between contiguous animals. This suggests that real barriers exist for farmers when implementing biosecurity measures on dairy farms
Driving change and sharing knowledge
Our research has played an important part in the formation of flock health clubs – an initiative started by the Sheep Veterinary Society and National Sheep Association to promote more proactive vet-farmer relationships.
Read more about flock health clubs from the Sheep Health and Welfare Group
Read more about flock health clubs from the Sheep Veterinary Society
Our work has also led to new audio-visual resources, used for knowledge transfer to farmers on safe and effective vaccination techniques.
Watch our YouTube webinar