What really matters in herd health advice? The use of in-depth, qualitative interviews to investigate the efficacy of current advisory strategies

A Scrase, David Main, Anne Haase, Becky Whay, Emma Roe, Kristen Reyher

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


Objectives: Herd health planning is a critical component of modern dairy farming, yet recent data (Bell et al. 2006) suggests negative views on this process are common and implementation of recommendations is often poor. What, then, really matters in this process, and how can it be enhanced? To ensure ‘agreement and common purpose’ (Sibley 2006), an in-depth understanding of both veterinarian and farmer perceptions is critical. This study is a qualitative approach to understanding this context, with the objective of revealing critical insight into what is the nature of, and what influences, veterinary advice and communication with farmers on herd health.
Materials and Methods: Farmers (n=14) located in the South West of England and their respective vets (n=10) from six South West practices were recruited via a UK retailer. Each farm was visited during a routine fertility consultation, and conversations between veterinarians and farmers were audio recorded. After completing the consultation, farmers and veterinarians were interviewed in an in-depth, semi-structured format to investigate perceptions and impacts of positive/negative communication, perceptions of veterinarian and other advisory roles on farm and attitudes towards motivation and compliance to advisory recommendations, particularly those relating to lameness and mastitis (mean interview duration 53.7 minutes).
Interview data was transcribed and organised/analysed thematically using the template methodology described by King (2004), to allow the comparison of farmer and veterinarian perspectives within this context. A sample size of 24 interviews was expected to provide sufficient variation to reach data saturation in thematic analysis, in the context of similar qualitative work in this field (Horseman et al. 2014).
Results: Preliminary data suggest that advisory behaviours on-farm, both from the veterinarian (giving advice) and farmer (seeking/receiving/implementing advice) are influenced by factors such as the farm complexity (history, structure, workers, priorities, capabilities), knowledge and experience of both parties, the role of external advisors, and the professional and personal relationship established between veterinarian and farmer. These factors are in turn underpinned by a host of values and attitudes, such as those relating to disease processes, implementing change, the dairy cow and the veterinary role.
Conclusions: The efficacy of a herd health plan rests not only in the recommendations themselves, but in engaging farmers in plan delivery. Interview data suggest that reaching ‘agreement and common purpose’ is a complex phenomenon that emerges through the interaction of many personal and practical factors, not merely the content of the programme delivered. Consideration of these results (in full detail) could therefore offer those working in advisory contexts the opportunity to enhance their delivery of herd health plans and increase the potential for successful implementation of advice on farm.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 29th World Buiatrics Congress, Dublin 2016 - Congress Proceedings
EditorsMichael Doherty
Number of pages1
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5262-0432-5
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventWorld Buiatrics Congress - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 3 Jul 20168 Jul 2016


ConferenceWorld Buiatrics Congress


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