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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Veterinary herd health management-Experiences and perceptions among Swedish dairy cattle veterinarians

Svensson, C.; Lomander, H.; Kokko, Suvi


Cattle veterinarians have long been encouraged to take on a role as proactive health consultants. How-ever, the process so far has been slow in Sweden and elsewhere, and only a rather small proportion of cattle work conducted by veterinarians involves vet-erinary herd health management (VHHM). The aims of this exploratory study were to explore Swedish cattle veterinarians' interpretation of VHHM services and to understand the factors that might affect the extent to which cattle veterinarians perform VHHM. Six focus group discussions with cattle veterinarians complemented with 5 individual telephone interviews with clinic managers were conducted in 2020. In total, 33 cattle veterinarians participated, all employed by the largest employer of Swedish cattle veterinarians: Distriktsveterinarerna (Swedish Board of Agriculture). Participants were chosen from 6 geographical regions with the aim to present variations in gender, age, coun-try of education, proportion of dairy cattle work at the clinic, experience in the veterinary profession, and ex-perience in work with dairy herds and in VHHM. The focus group discussions and interviews were recorded and these recordings were transcribed and analyzed thematically. Participants interpreted VHHM as work associated with the process of advising and included both ad hoc advising and more strategic forms of ser-vices. Prebooked visits per se were not seen as VHHM. We identified 4 different themes among the factors af-fecting the extent of VHHM services: (1) farmer trust and demand; (2) veterinary competence; (3) time avail-able for VHHM; and (4) the individual veterinarian's commitment and motivation. To gain farmers' trust and to create a demand for VHHM services, the results of VHHM work and the veterinarian's competence were deemed central by the participants. The veterinarians' skills in communication and relation building were considered especially important. Some farmers were perceived as having little interest in, or lacking deeper knowledge about, VHHM services. The promotion of VHHM services was mentioned as an important fac-tor to increase farmer demand. Participants described VHHM as work demanding high skills and continuous capacity development. Veterinarians' personal commit-ment and motivation were also described as important for the extent to which VHHM services were performed. This was in turn affected by the psychosocial work environment (e.g., workload, interest and recognition from farmers and managers, and acceptance, priority, and support by colleagues and managers). Clinic man-agers had a central role in the extent to which VHHM services are offered by an individual veterinarian due to their responsibility for staff scheduling, which highly affects the conditions for capacity development, inter-collegiate networking, and cooperation. Lack of time was a major barrier for VHHM. On-call duty time and subsequent compensatory leave affected the total time available, and participants described time conflicts between VHHM and emergency services; moreover, it was perceived as challenging to find sufficient time for capacity development in several different species for veterinarians working in mixed practice. The slow de-velopment toward more proactive approaches for cattle veterinarians can be explained by the numerous dif-ferent factors that together constrain the veterinarian to the traditional role of diagnosing and treating sick animals.


herd health management; dairy cattle; qualitative research; veterinarians' perceptions

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2022, Volume: 105, number: 8, pages: 6820-6832 Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE INC