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Achieving improvements in the health of Scottish livestock through increased uptake of biosecurity practices: towards a farmer-centric approach based on a Socio-Epidemiological Model

Achieving improvements in the health of Scottish livestock through increased uptake of biosecurity practices: towards a farmer-centric approach based on a Socio-Epidemiological Model

  • Animal Disease
  • 2022-2027
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The farming community is heterogeneous and the context in which farmers work varies across geographies, species, and environments. A variety of approaches are required to communicate with, motivate and incentivise farmers from different groups to adopt beneficial practices.

Different biosecurity measures are appropriate for different species and types of production, and farmers face different risks based on their location and climatic conditions. These risks are influenced by local customs and commonly adopted practices.  

Animal health is complex and the risks around endemic and emerging diseases vary over time and geographies with additional pressures from climate change.  Farmers face challenges in obtaining and maintaining adequate levels of knowledge.  These challenges include the need to adapt farm practices and increase uptake of biosecurity.  

We need a multi-disciplinary approach to agricultural research which is rooted in the health of livestock, is farmer-centric, and which has outputs which are clearly communicated in a way that farmers, policy makers and others find accessible and understandable. We need to fully understand the interplay between factors which influence farmers’ decision making and the trade-offs farmers make as they balance different risks and priorities. Such an approach and understanding can be used to predict potential unintended consequences for farmers as well as impact on levels of disease.


  • What and how can improvements be made to the health of Scottish livestock through increased uptake of biosecurity practices?


The aim is to provide a holistic framework that combines data from epidemiology, applied agricultural economics, and behavioural science in a multi-disciplinary approach to biosecurity.   We have designed a Socio-Epidemiological Model for Biosecurity in Scottish Farming that is being adapted and used as a framework to better understand:

  • Farmers, their context, and the factors that influence their behaviour and choices
  • The impact of different biosecurity choices on disease burdens
  • The potential for influencing decisions through communicating disease predictions
  • Barriers to uptake of biosecurity practices, which of these can be influenced, and what might be effective in incentivising uptake by different types of farmers in different contexts

The groundwork for developing the Socio-Epidemiological framework includes identifying a range of methodological options, data sets and models across disciplines for data collection. These methodological options are being described in plain English and a glossary of terms is being collated to facilitate communication between disciplines. An important aspect of the work is to translate very different types of data into key messages tailored for different audiences, including policy, industry and for use at individual farm level.

The framework is being applied in three case studies: Health Planning for Paratuberculosis, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRS) and Biosecurity Practices in Remote and Island Upland Farms.  These discrete case studies provide in-depth analysis of the constraints and drivers of adoption of better biosecurity practices, in particular the holistic assessment of diseases on the sociological, economic, and epidemiological dimensions.


Health Planning: Paratuberculosis

This case study uses and generates qualitative data about the views and experiences of farmers, such as their willingness to buy at Johne’s Levels (the Johne’s status of a herd is categorised on a Risk Level basis with the lowest level being the best risk level to buy from), the paratuberculosis related biosecurity challenges they face, and what they would find helpful and motivating to overcome these challenges. This work includes revisiting the topic in focus groups with farmers and also endeavours to reach farmers who have previously not engaged with research on the topic.

Previous research developed a dynamic network model of cattle trading which reproduces key characteristics of the observed cattle tracing scheme (CTS) data. This can be used to test disease impacts of a range of interventions and structures, such as different categories of farmers and the outcomes of changes in biosecurity uptake.  The integrated socio- epidemiological framework being used to explore the design of health schemes, both in terms of how increased uptake might reduce disease burdens and how reductions in prevalence within such schemes could motivate increased uptake. A key stage will be the integration of data sources to the model parameterisation drawn from data about the views and experiences of farmers.


Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRS)

We are focusing on endemic diseases in Scottish pig farms, especially on PRRS, and are producing disease related information to meet farmers’ needs. Specifically, the project is gathering information regarding PRRS status and the biosecurity practices implemented to control it, and to generate information sheets and promote discussion groups on how to implement disease-tailored internal and external biosecurity practices.

Through the data collected and the network in place, it is possible to gather evidence on the biosecurity measures implemented by the farms with the highest health status, relating it to their productivity, with the goal to share the knowledge and practices with farms at-risk. This is promoting strict biosecurity as a behavioural norm within the industry.


Biosecurity Practices in Remote and Island Upland Farms

We seek to better understand how farmer behaviour influences decision making around uptake and maintenance of biosecurity measures in remote rural and island settings and to provide tailored and targeted knowledge exchange materials.

This activity seeks to improve biosecurity practices on Scotland’s small remote livestock farms by developing and promoting targeted actions which are co-developed with producer groups. It addresses the disconnection between biosecurity approaches promoted at industry and national level and the measures that local farmers identify as being important and practicable. The case study looks at two examples of biosecurity practices to reflect the unique situations that arise for remote livestock production: movement quarantine and worm control.

It features a holistic approach targeted at areas in which the unique challenges and characteristics of farming are a barrier to uptake of biosecurity practices and a co-production approach to the development of solutions. Critically, farmers themselves are the centre of the project and can influence outputs.

To evaluate the effectiveness of this approach, baseline data is being collected about worm treatment, animal movements and levels of disease. This data is being used to produce an evaluation report which will be useful to inform the government about engagement approaches to promote biosecurity uptake. The final phase of the project disseminates the knowledge exchange materials to other similar areas in Scotland (remote mainland and island farms and crofts).

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