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On-farm surveillance and reporting of animals with suspicious symptoms
The challenge: How we do encourage farmers to report animal disease as quickly as possible?
Partner: Department of Agriculture
Year: 2015

Australia’s agribusiness makes billions on the back of our reputation for being clean and green – and our farm animals remaining largely disease free.


We only keep this reputation by making sure our primary producers – or farmers – continue to monitor their livestock for emergency animal diseases and report any cases quickly to prevent them spreading.


What did we do?

BehaviourWorks was engaged to help identify barriers to on-farm surveillance and reporting of animals with suspicious symptoms.


We conducted three focus groups covering the sheep, cattle and pig industries, with participants reporting several concerns or issues with the reporting process.


These included lack of information about what they should do, uncertainty about what happens after reporting, veterinary costs, who to trust and the shame associated with reporting disease.


Most farmers keep an eye out for notifiable diseases, but if a disease has never been seen or hasn’t been around for years, the signs can be hard to recognise.


To have an outbreak is bad enough, but it’s even worse to be first. 


Survey

Following the focus groups, we conducted a survey to understand intentions to monitor livestock and report suspicious symptoms.


Asked if they would talk to someone if they suspected an outbreak in their livestock, 99% of farmers said yes.


Most (85%) would speak to their vet, some (14.5%) would call their state department of primary industries and a few (6.5%) would speak to their neighbours.


It’s clear that these behaviours are strongly influenced by past experiences and social norms, and that changing them means developing that most powerful and rare bond – trust.

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Discussion

We rely on farmers to report suspicious signs of disease in their livestock – but to whom?


When it comes to their own vets, cost and distance come into play (the vet could be hours away).


The more farmers trust the government (especially when it comes to communication), the more they’re likely to report signs of diseased livestock.

Many things influence farmers – the weather, the market, government regulations, the environment, past history, future hopes and of course, other farmers.


Reporting suspicious symptoms is a big step (and risk).


A critical factor is their perception of, and relationship with, the government.