Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Udder health and communication

At this moment we are in the middle of an International Conference we organized on Udder Health and Communication. This conference is organized by the Dutch Udder Health Center (UGCN), GD Animal Health Service, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Utrecht University and our Business Economics group at Wageningen University.

The idea behind this conference is that there is a lot of technical knowledge out there. We have the knowledge to prevent a large part (more than 75 %) of the udder health problems that are around on our farms. Additional knowledge is necessary for the additional 25 or less %.

So a large part of the udder health problems can be solved when currently available knowledge is applied. If we want to have an improved udder health, we have to motivate farmers to further control udder health. Farmers need to be motivated. An important motivator is economics: mastitis costs money (see our recent overview and the papers of Kirsten Huijps and Tariq Halasa). By changing incentives, for instance by rewarding farmers for better udder health (carrot) or giving penalties for bad udder health (stick), udder health can certainly be improved. However, money is no the only thing that motivates farmers. For instance, pleasure in work is an important motivator as well (see paper of Natasha Valeeva). So if we want to change the behaviour of dairy farmers we need to motivate them. Communication plays an essential role in that. Recently Theo Lam gave an overview of the current knowledge on that.

Because we learned that worldwide the interest in "how to communciate to farmers in order to improve udder health" is increasing we organised the conference. I got a couple of thoughts that made me wonder. Pieter Hemels (owner of a large communication firm, Hemels van der Hart) gave a keynote presentation and he indicated that an important aspect is the question: "what's in it for me". Many of the mastitis programs need the involvement of intermedial people, for instance veterinarians. So we should not only look at the dairy farmers: what's in it for them when they improve udder health, but also to the veterinarians: what's in it for them when they participate in a udder health improvement program. These questions should be asked during the setup of a program. "What's in it" can be very economically oriented: how much more profit do I make, but it can also be on other area's: my work becomes more fun, or I am gaining respect from my fellow veterinarians.

All in all a very interesting topic, which is way too wide to be covered in a simple posting to my Blog. For those interested, the proceedings of the conference are published as book.

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