Building trust between vets and farmers key to encouraging cattle vaccination, study funds

Building trusting relationships between veterinary surgeons and farmers is crucial to improving animal health on dairy farms, research by researchers at The University of Nottingham has found.

The study on perceptions and challenges of vaccinations among vets was carried out by academics in the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science on behalf of ADHB Dairy, a not-for-profit organisation working on behalf of Britain’s dairy farmers.

The study, published in the journal The Veterinary Record, suggests that those charged with uniting the veterinary profession around vaccination strategies are faced with a number of pressing issues — including the risk perceptions of both veterinary surgeons and farmers and the need for further information on disease prevalence.

Dr Wendela Wapenaar, Clinical Associate Professor in Cattle Health and Epidemiology, at The University of Nottingham, said: “The veterinary profession is aware of the importance of communication and relationship-building with their clients. Practical training and education of these ‘soft skills’ has now been implemented in many veterinary courses and is also available as post-graduate veterinary training. This study supports the importance of these crucial skills.”

Many of the pathogens we vaccinate cattle against are regularly found in Britain: they are endemic diseases such as bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and leptospirosis. The over prescribing of vaccines add to farm expenditure in an already challenging financial climate. The current changes in national disease surveillance and disease investigation strategies, make it ever more challenging to acquire information about diseases present on livestock farms.

During the study, interviews were carried out with vets throughout England, Scotland and Wales were carried out to determine attitudes to vaccination and also to examine decision-making processes in the absence of a national overarching strategy for cattle vaccination.

It discovered that vets were motivated to advise on vaccination and perceived few barriers to doing so. There were, however, concerns around the consequences of not advising vaccination, which resulted in a risk-averse approach.

Although both farmer and veterinary surgeon want evidence of a disease on a farm or risk of the disease entering a farm before vaccinating, the perception of the veterinary surgeons was that farmers’ awareness of disease presence or disease risk was low.

Most crucially, veterinary surgeons recognised the need to support and build on the vet-farmer relationship, for example through provision of increased time and resources to enable veterinary surgeons to discuss disease prevention and control with clients. In the British farming industry, farmers generally administer all vaccines themselves. The role of the vet is therefore very different to that of vets and health professionals in companion animal, equine and human health.

Dr Imogen Richens, lecturer at Bristol University, worked on the study as part of her PhD research at Nottingham.

She said: “The study findings suggest that veterinary surgeons are stuck between two mind-sets. On one hand, they feel the need to justify their advice with the use of evidence of disease while ensuring a cost-effective strategy. On the other, veterinary surgeons are worried about the consequences of not advising, or advising against, the use of a vaccine.

“This contradiction is partly a conflict between wanting to do what is best for their client and fear of the consequences if the advice does not lead to better production and animal welfare. This situation may also be propagated by the lack of a national policy or a cohesive industry aim for the use of vaccination.”

The research was funded by AHDB Dairy, the Centre for Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine at The University of Nottingham and The University of Nottingham.

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