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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Veterinary herd health management-Experience among farmers and farm managers in Swedish dairy production

Svensson, C.; Alvasen, K.; Eldh, A. C.; Frossling, J.; Lomander, H.

Abstract

A preventive herd health approach will most likely reduce incidences of clinical and subclinical disease. Swedish veterinary organizations offer specific veterinary herd health management (HHM) programs, but these services are not used to a large extent.The aim of this study was to investigate dairy farmers' experience of HHM and the conditions for collaboration with veterinarians in HHM.Six focus group discussions were conducted in March 2015 in West Sweden. In total, 33 dairy farmers participated. The recordings were transcribed and coded using thematic analysis, and the transcripts were reviewed to identify potential factors indicating barriers for farmers to engage a veterinarian in HHM. The participants reported HHM to be important, but they had difficulty defining the actions included in the concept. They described a wide range of their work duties as preventive. The farmers' list of potential contributions by the veterinarians in HHM was strikingly short compared to the considerable number of preventive measures they performed themselves. Four main obstacles for farmers and farm managers to engage a veterinarian in HHM on their farm were identified in the analysis: "costs", "veterinary knowledge, skills, and organization", "farmer attitudes", and "veterinarian-farmer relationships". Costs were proposed as the main reason against engaging a veterinarian in HHM and included a high veterinary bill, low cost-benefit of veterinary services, and high costs to implement advice. Poor veterinary competence in HHM and poor knowledge about effective measures, practical farming, and farm economics were other important obstacles. Veterinarians were perceived to insufficiently describe their services and their benefits, and several participants felt they had never been offered veterinary HHM. Although veterinary HHM may be initiated by the farmer, the participants expected the veterinarian to have special responsibility for the initiation. A firm trust between farmer, staff, and veterinarian was considered crucial for veterinary HHM, but such trust takes a long time to build and can easily be disrupted by, for example, a veterinarian's poor communication skills or lack of time.Our findings suggest that Swedish dairy farmers and herd managers find disease prevention important and that they perform a wide range of tasks to prevent disease in their animals. However, they do not see what role the veterinarian can play, and veterinarians were mainly associated with treating unhealthy cows. In order to increase the use of veterinary HHM programs the services and potential benefits of such programs need to be communicated more proactively.

Keywords

Herd health management; Dairy cattle; Qualitative research; Farmers' perceptions

Published in

Preventive Veterinary Medicine
2018, Volume: 155, pages: 45-52