September 15, 2023


Study reveals farmer behaviour plays crucial role in controlling livestock disease outbreaks



A recent study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine highlights how variations in farmer behaviour can significantly impact the management of livestock disease outbreaks, shedding light on the importance of behavioural factors, such as vaccine adoption, in disease control strategies, reported.


Controlling the spread of livestock diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis, and bovine viral diarrhoea, heavily relies on farmer behaviour, particularly their decisions regarding vaccination and other preventive measures. Researchers from the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick have emphasised the need to consider these behavioural differences when planning for contingencies or formulating policies to address future outbreaks.


To delve into the intricate relationship between farmer behaviour and disease control, the research team conducted interviews with 60 cattle farmers across the UK. Their focus was on understanding how farmers make vaccination decisions during a rapidly unfolding epidemic. The study unveiled that swift vaccination uptake is linked to a strong trust in government disease control plans and having sufficient time and resources to combat the disease.


Building on these findings, the researchers constructed a comprehensive mathematical model encompassing the entire UK. They examined the potential impact of accounting for farmer behaviour on disease outbreak predictions in contrast to scenarios where behavioural diversity was disregarded.


The research conducted by the University of Nottingham's School of Veterinary Medicine and Health Sciences, along with Warwick's Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER), underscores the significance of a modelling approach that encompasses both epidemiological and socio-behavioural dimensions. By illustrating how neglecting individual farmers' disease management strategies can hinder assessments of nationwide outcomes, this study shows the importance of behavioural insights.


The incorporation of behavioural factors into disease control models holds the potential to enhance the planning and implementation of national disease control strategies. Policymakers can utilize these insights to make more accurate projections concerning the scale and cost of future livestock disease outbreaks.


Dr Ed Hill, co-author of the study from the Warwick Mathematics Institute at the University of Warwick, said that their 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.


Dr Naomi Prosser, also from the University of Nottingham, said that 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 also said that 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.


She said the researchers are also interested in understanding how behaviours are influenced by policy, advice and the actions of neighbouring farmers.



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