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Farmer behaviour plays crucial role in managing livestock diseases

New research has highlighted the crucial role farmers play in managing livestock diseases.

A study published today in Preventative Veterinary Medicine has shown how differences in farmer behaviour can affect controlling the scale of disease outbreaks. Farmer behaviour, especially vaccine uptake or other preventative measures, is critical to how effective responses are to livestock disease outbreaks, such as foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis and bovine viral diarrhoea.

The researchers, from the Universities of Warwick and Nottingham, say that the behavioural differences reported in the paper need to be taken into account when contingency planning or developing policy for future outbreaks.

The research team interviewed 60 cattle farmers from around the UK, investigating the farmer’s vaccination decisions in an unfolding fast-spreading epidemic. The study found that prompt vaccination uptake was associated with high trust in the Government plans for disease control and having enough time and money to control the disease. The team then incorporated this information into a mathematical model for the whole of the UK and studied how having knowledge of farmer behaviour may impact disease outbreak predictions, compared to circumstances where differences in farmer behaviour was ignored.

The researchers, based at Warwick’s Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER) and from the University of Nottingham, have demonstrated the usefulness of modelling that has both epidemiological and socio-behavioural elements. The study reveals how omitting the diversity in individual farmers’ disease management plans for livestock infections can hinder assessments of the likely national outcomes.

The value of the behavioural insight highlighted in this research could be extremely helpful in planning and administering national disease control strategies, enabling policymakers to determine the scale and cost of future livestock disease outbreaks more accurately.

Dr Ed Hill, from the Warwick Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, who co-authored the study, said: “Our quantitative study explores veterinary health associated behaviours, capturing individual and contextual factors. These data allow differences in farmer disease-management behaviours to be included into models of livestock disease transmission, which can help to inform veterinary health decision making.”


Co-author, Dr Naomi Prosser from the University of Nottingham, added: “Understanding the specific factors associated with different behavioural responses of farmers to disease outbreaks will allow improved design of disease control strategies by taking these factors and the expected behavioural differences into account.”


Dr Hill added: “This pilot study has shown the power and necessity of combining epidemiological predictions with an assessment of farmer behaviour. More work is now needed to understand how farmer’s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs – and therefore their likely behaviour – will change over time. We also interested in understanding how behaviours are influenced by policy, advice and the actions of neighbouring farmers.”

The research, published today in Preventative Veterinary Medicine, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Read the paper here

Find out more about the FEED project here:

Notes to Editors

University of Warwick press office contact:

Annie Slinn

Communications Officer | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick Email:

13 September 2023

Wed 13 Sep 2023, 15:56 | Tags: agriculture, Mathematics, research, zeeman institute, farming