The animal article of the month for November is entitled ‘European organic dairy farmers’ preference for animal health management within the farm management system’

Improving animal health status is important since consumers are becoming more critical towards the products they buy. This is even more true for the organic dairy sector were consumers expect a better animal health status compared to the conventional dairy sector. Currently organic dairy farmers in the European Union fail to reach an animal health status which is significantly better than their conventional counterparts.

The expertise and knowledge of veterinary advisors plays a vital and crucial role in improving animal health status on dairy farms. At the same time, most veterinary advisors only advice on their own restricted field of expertise and might be confronted with, what they experience as, dairy farmers who remain noncompliant with the given advice. From the perspective of the dairy farmer the decision to do so might be very logical as he/she has to manage the entire farm and priorities are given elsewhere. Insights in how organic dairy farmers prefer animal health in relation to other farm activities is vital information to veterinary advisors as it might reveal why their advice is adopted or not.

We therefore used a method, called adaptive conjoint analysis, to determine the preference of EU organic dairy farmers towards each of the different aspects of their farm management. To do so we had to make a simplification of reality in which we assumed that farm management consisted of five common management areas. Two of these represented udder health management and claw health management, thereby representing animal health management. The remaining three management areas were barn management, calf management and pasture management and represented “competing” management areas. A total of 71 French, 60 German, 28 Spanish and 57 Swedish organic dairy farmers completed the questionnaire.

We found that the preference of these farmers varied substantially towards the different management areas. This variation in preference could not be explained by any of the routinely collected farm data, e.g. herd size, health problems or milk production Notably, most farmers did not give the highest preference score towards animal health management. The majority of farmers gave the highest score to calf management which was mainly motivated by a high preference for appropriate colostrum supply and a low preference for measuring chest girth of all youngstock.

Insights in the individual dairy farmers preferences is valuable information for veterinary advisors. It shows that to most farmers animal health management is not the most preferred management area and explains why farmers remain incompliant with veterinary advice. This should motivate veterinary advisors to further back-up their advice by showing the potential benefits, either economic or technical, to the dairy farmers. On the other hand it shows that the methodology used in our study is a good method to explore dairy farmers preferences since it has been shown that preferences cannot be determined based on routinely collected farm data.

This article is freely available until 31 December 2015*

Authors: F. J. S. van Soest, M. C. M. Mourits and H. Hogeveen

The animal Article of the Month is selected by the Editor-in-Chief and is freely available for one month

*Due to issues with our blog all papers selected as the ‘animal Article of the Month’ from September  – November will be freely available until 31 Dec 2015

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