Insights into dairy farmers’ management decisions
Caroline Ritter and Herman Barkema, University of Calgary
Dairy farmers have to balance industry standards, consumer expectations, and economic sustainability of their farm, while concurrently addressing their own standards and priorities. A better understanding of the influences behind farmers’ decision-making will enable policy-makers to design more effective disease control programs and facilitate program delivery and implementation.
For her research in Dr. Barkema’s Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle, Caroline Ritter, a veterinarian from Germany and current PhD student at the University of Calgary, conducted interviews and questinnaires with dairy farmers. One objective was to determine farmers’ preferences regarding how to receive information on farm management and disease control. For example, do they prefer printed information or discussion groups? Knowing farmers preferred sources for information should facilitate communications.
Another major focus was to visit dairy farmers to discuss Johne’s disease and the Alberta Johne’s Disease Initiative (AJDI), to learn from their feedback, improve similar programs, and ultimately increase participation in disease control. Concurrently, environmental manure samples were collected and approximately half of the farms were positive for Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), the organism causing Johne’s disease. Furthermore, she determined that farmers with a MAP-infected herd were not more or less likely to enroll in the AJDI as farmers with noninfected herds.
Research conducted at the University of Calgary confirmed that the herd veterinarian has a major influence on decision-making by many dairy farmers, particularly regarding implementation of management practices. A better understanding of how veterinarians communicate with farmers to educate and give advice will help to better understand management decisions of dairy farmers and prepare future veterinarians for more effective dairy practice. To assess communication and topics during herd health visits, veterinarians in Alberta and Ontario were equipped with video cameras to record a total of 100 farm visits. Analysis of these recordings is underway.
Understanding what factors influence farmers’ decision-making, how farmers prefer to receive information, and how veterinarians can communicate more effectively with farmers are important steps towards improving animal health and welfare.
Caroline Ritter’s research was funded by the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle, Alberta Milk, the Margaret Gunn Endowment for Animal Research, and the Izaak Walton Killam Trust.