Inspiring Change: can Motivational Interviewing improve the uptake of advice on cattle health and welfare?

Alison Bard, David Main, Anne Haase, Emma Roe, Becky Whay, Kristen Reyher

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther Conference Contributionpeer-review


In the UK dairy industry, lameness and mastitis are endemic diseases that represent a significant welfare concern for dairy cattle. Research indicates that a third of the UK dairy herd are lame at any given time (1) while, on average, almost half will suffer from clinical mastitis each year (2). Despite significant advances in research on key risk factors and management strategies implicit in these disease processes, implementation of changes on-farm still appear to be inadequate (3).
Motivating farmers to enact management change is increasingly the role of herd veterinarians, who recognise their influence and the need for proactive advice, but struggle with integrating this into daily practice (4). There are two critical barriers in this process. Firstly, effective communication is crucial to inspire change, yet research suggests that skills in this area are limited. Veterinarians readily rely on a directive style with little emphasis or focus on client input (5,6), which is known to engender psychological reactance rather than positive change (7). Secondly, herd health management is a complex, multi-factorial process where no simple panaceas exist (8). Hence, farmer behaviour in controlling these diseases is complex, with ambivalence towards implementing change a common and persistent occurrence.
In the medical sciences, practitioners report similar issues with communication and ambivalence impeding progress and are increasingly employing an evidence-based communication methodology called Motivational Interviewing (MI) (9). MI specifically explores and resolves ambivalence to influence the motivational processes that facilitate change by evoking a client’s own desires, reasons and willingness to do so as a means of clarifying and strengthening their positive intent. Empirical studies suggest MI communication outperforms traditional advice-giving in the treatment of a broad range of behavioural problems and diseases, improving client behavioural and medical outcomes (10,11). Where clinical communication and the handling of ambivalence are acute stumbling blocks on farm for the implementation of positive change in disease management, equipping veterinarians with MI communication skills could facilitate meaningful improvements in how farmers perceive and manage these diseases.
This presentation reflects ongoing research at the University of Bristol investigating the feasibility for MI to be harnessed by cattle veterinarians in daily practice. Preliminary investigations into this topic will be discussed; a quantitative assessment of veterinarian-farmer discourse on complex management change, supported by a qualitative, in-depth study of veterinarian and farmer perceptions of communication, advice and implementing change on farm. The talk will conclude with insight into a training intervention for cattle veterinarians in the MI methodology and the potential for MI to be harnessed as a communication methodology by the veterinary profession will be appraised. We hypothesise that integrating MI into veterinary advice-giving could empower farmers to make positive change, improving the health and welfare of their animals.

1. Barker, Z.E, Leach, K.A, Whay, H.R, Bell, N.J and Main, D.C.J. (2010). Assessment of lameness prevalence and associated risk factors in dairy herds in England and Wales. Journal of Dairy Science. 93(3): 932-41
2. Bradley, A.J., Leach, K.A., Breen, J.E., Green, L.E. and Green, M.J. (2007). Survey of the incidence and aetiology of mastitis on dairy farms in England and Wales. Veterinary Record. 160(8): 253-8.
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8. Le Blanc S.J., Lissemore K.D., Kelton D.F., Duffield T.F. and Leslie K.E. (2006). Major Advances in Disease Prevention in Dairy Cattle. Journal of Dairy Science. 89(4): 1267-1279.
9. Martins R.K. and McNeil D.W. (2009). Review of Motivational Interviewing in promoting health behaviors. Clinical Psychology Review. 29(4): 283-93
10. Lundahl B., Moleni T., Burke B.L., Butters R., Tollefson D., Butler C. and Rollnick S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing in medical care settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Patient Education and Counselling. 93(2): 157-68.
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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
EventHuman Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare - Dorking, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Sept 201621 Sept 2016


ConferenceHuman Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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