Improving dairy cattle welfare
: examining Motivational Interviewing, veterinary communication and the herd health advisory paradigm

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Being a veterinarian is not just about science and methodology. In the dairy industry, encouraging and motivating clients to improve animal husbandry and adopt veterinary advice remains a critical challenge to improving animal health and welfare. Hence, veterinary communication - the bridge between veterinarian and farmer that enables the passage of ideas and advice on implementing change, one that can inspire motivation, arouse action and enhance confidence – is at the heart of farm animal well-being.

At present, there is a dearth of research exploring communication in the pursuit of behaviour change in the herd health advisory context. This deficit in understanding means there is little insight for advisors to support and inform their professional services to encourage behaviour change, nor is there theoretical basis for educators and trainers to tailor education packages to the specific needs and intricacies of this context.

This thesis presents research aiming to illuminate and enhance the intricacies of the herd health advisory paradigm, exploring how cattle veterinarians currently communicate in the pursuit of behaviour change, the factors implicit in the enactment of change for herd health and whether Motivational Interviewing (MI- an evidence-based communication methodology developed in the medical sciences) can be adopted in this context to facilitate greater farmer self-determination in the pursuit of herd health management.

Research findings suggest the MI methodology meets a skills gap in current veterinary communication and is congruent with veterinarian and farmer desires for the herd health advisory paradigm. Furthermore, feasibility testing of brief MI training suggests veterinarians can learn and apply MI within herd health consultations, with resulting farmer responses predictive of better advisory engagement and on-farm behaviour change outcomes. Drawing together these research findings, recommendations are made for MI to enhance veterinary communication with clients both within this research context and wider veterinary services.
Date of Award19 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsBVA Animal Welfare Foundation
SupervisorKristen K Reyher (Supervisor), David C J Main (Supervisor), Emma J Roe (Supervisor), Anne M Haase (Supervisor) & Helen R Whay (Supervisor)


  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Herd health
  • Veterinary communication
  • Behaviour change
  • Motivation
  • Self-determination Theory

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