Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Farmers want to improve animal health. Really?

Improving animal health status is important since consumers are becoming more critical towards the products they buy. This is even more true for the organic dairy sector were consumers expect a better animal health status compared to the conventional dairy sector. Currently organic dairy farmers in the European Union fail to reach an animal health status which is significantly better than their conventional counterparts, see for instance this paper.  

The expertise and knowledge of veterinary advisors plays a vital and crucial role in improving animal health status on dairy farms. At the same time, most veterinary advisors only advice on their own restricted field of expertise and might be confronted with, what they experience as, dairy farmers who remain incompliant with the given advice. From the perspective of the dairy farmer the decision to do so might be very logical as he/she has to manage the entire farm and priorities are given elsewhere. Insights in how organic dairy farmers prefer animal health in relation to other farm activities is vital information to veterinary advisors as it might reveal why their advice is adopted or not.
Within the EU project IMPRO, Felix van Soest is working on social-economic aspects of improving health on organic dairy farms. It is his PhD project. To explore the preference of organic dairy farmers towards improving health management in relation to other management area's he used a method, called adaptive conjoint analysis.
To do so he made a simplification of reality in which he assumed that farm management consisted of five common management areas. Two of these represented udder health management and claw health management, thereby representing animal health management. The remaining three management areas were barn management, calf management and pasture management and represented “competing” management areas. A total of 71 French, 60 German, 28 Spanish and 57 Swedish organic dairy farmers completed the questionnaire.

The results of the work are described in a paper published in Animal. I am proud that the paper is the paper of the month November.

In his research, Felix found that the preference of the farmers varied substantially towards the different management areas. This variation in preference could not be explained by any of the routinely collected farm data, e.g. herd size, health problems or milk production Notably, most farmers did not give the highest preference score towards animal health management. The majority of farmers gave the highest score to calf management which was mainly motivated by a high preference for appropriate colostrum supply and a low preference for measuring chest girth of all youngstock.

Insights in the individual dairy farmers' preferences is valuable information for (veterinary) advisors. It shows that to most farmers, animal health management is not the most preferred management area and explains why farmers remain incompliant with veterinary advice. This should motivate veterinary advisors to further back-up their advice by showing the potential benefits, either economic or technical, to the dairy farmers. On the other hand, it shows that the methodology used in our study is a good method to explore dairy farmers' motivations.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
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