Study Finds Farmer Behaviour Essential in Managing Livestock Diseases

Behavioural insight highlighted in the research would be helpful in planning and administering national disease control strategies, enabling policymakers to determine the scale and cost of future livestock disease outbreaks more accurately.

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A study published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine has demonstrated how changes in the behaviour of farmers can have an effect on disease outbreak prevention. Farmer behaviour, particularly vaccination and other preventative measures, is crucial to the effectiveness of responses to livestock disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis, and bovine viral diarrhoea.

The researchers, from the Universities of Warwick and Nottingham, say that the behavioural differences reported in the paper need to be taken into account when contingency planning or developing policy for future outbreaks. The research team interviewed 60 cattle farmers from around the UK, investigating the farmers' vaccination decisions in an unfolding fast-spreading epidemic. 

The study found that prompt vaccination uptake was associated with high trust in the Government plans for disease control and having enough time and money to control the disease. The team then incorporated this information into a mathematical model for the whole of the UK and studied how having knowledge of farmer behaviour may impact disease outbreak predictions, compared to circumstances where differences in farmer behaviour were ignored.

The researchers, based at Warwick’s Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER) and from the University of Nottingham, have demonstrated the usefulness of modelling that has both epidemiological and socio-behavioural elements. 

The study reveals how omitting the diversity in individual farmers’ disease management plans for livestock infections can hinder assessments of the likely national outcomes. The value of the behavioural insight highlighted in this research could be extremely helpful in planning and administering national disease control strategies, enabling policymakers to determine the scale and cost of future livestock disease outbreaks more accurately.

Dr Ed Hill, from the Warwick Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, who co-authored the study, said: “Our quantitative study explores veterinary health-associated behaviours, capturing individual and contextual factors. These data allow differences in farmer disease-management behaviours to be included into models of livestock disease transmission, which can help to inform veterinary health decision making.”

Co-author, Dr Naomi Prosser from the University of Nottingham, added, “Understanding the specific factors associated with different behavioural responses of farmers to disease outbreaks will allow improved design of disease control strategies by taking these factors and the expected behavioural differences into account.”

Dr Hill added, “This pilot study has shown the power and necessity of combining epidemiological predictions with an assessment of farmer behaviour. More work is now needed to understand how farmer’s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs – and therefore their likely behaviour – will change over time. We are also interested in understanding how behaviours are influenced by policy, advice and the actions of neighbouring farmers.” 


Tags assigned to this article:
livestock health Behavioural psychology


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