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Farmer behaviour plays ‘crucial role’ in managing livestock diseases

New research has highlighted the crucial role that farmers play in managing livestock diseases, and how differences in behaviour can affect controlling the scale of outbreaks.

Farmer behaviour, especially vaccine uptake or other preventative measures, is critical to how effective responses are to livestock disease outbreaks, according to the study.

The researchers, from the Universities of Warwick and Nottingham, say the behavioural differences need to be taken into account when contingency planning or developing policy for future outbreaks.

Sixty cattle farmers from around the UK were interviewed, investigating their vaccination decisions in an unfolding fast-spreading epidemic.

It 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 was ignored.

The researchers 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.

Researchers say the value of the behavioural insight highlighted in this research could 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.

Dr Ed Hill, of the 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.”

He 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.”

The research, published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).