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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Dairy farmers' perspectives on antibiotic use: A qualitative study

Fischer, Klara; Sjostrom, Karin; Stiernstrom, Arvid; Emanuelson, Ulf


An important step in limiting the development of antibiotic resistance is reducing use of antibiotics in animal husbandry. Much research in this area has focused on individual farmer behavior, aiming to better align actual use with medical recommendations. However, farmers' practices and reasoning around their antibiotic use do not reflect solely that farmer as an individual. Rather, practices and worldviews are guided by context (e.g., veterinary advice, peer pressure, regulation, and interactions with farm animals). Studies that jointly embrace farmer agency and the wider structures for this agency, however, remain scarce. This paper draws on theories of behavior as socially constructed, and in particular on the concept of the "good farmer," to interpret findings from a study of 7 Swedish dairy farms. The results show that all farmers have close daily contact with their animals, have strong emotional ties, and place emphasis on the importance of being able to judge animal health status by eye. Half of the farms use an automatic milking system, and for these farmers automation means better monitoring of animal health without losing contact with the cows. The local veterinarian is considered a positive and important authority whose advice is valued. Despite comparatively strict antibiotic use regulations in Sweden, the farmers do not report lack of access to antibiotics when needed. However, they report feeling disadvantaged in international trade and poorly treated by the Swedish government, which allows imports of cheaper meat and dairy products produced under less strict regulations. The farmers are well informed about how to prevent and treat common diseases. In cases where they do not follow recommendations, we found that economic and labor constraints are the reason rather than lack of knowledge. We concluded that structural limitations faced by farmers, rather than lack of information, impose constraints to further limiting antibiotic use in Sweden. Overall stricter arid more uniform global regulations on antibiotic use in animal farming could be an effective measure for reducing antibiotic use.


dairy; farmer behavior; antibiotic; biosecurity

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2019, Volume: 102, number: 3, pages: 2724-2737