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Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Livestock Science
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/livsci

Veterinary perspectives on cattle welfare challenges and solutions

B.A. Ventura, D.M. Weary, A.S. Giovanetti, M.A.G. von Keyserlingk
Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, 2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4


Keywords: Livestock veterinarians have important roles in advancing animal welfare on farms. In the present study, focus
Engagement groups were used to engage dairy and beef cattle veterinarians and veterinary researchers based primarily in
Consultation Europe. Discussions were structured to elicit perceptions of welfare issues on cattle farms, as well as the
Sustainability challenges and desired solutions for change. Discussions were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim and
content analysis was used to identify participants’ views on animal welfare challenges and solutions.
Dairy cow
Beef cattle
Participants held multi-dimensional conceptions of animal welfare that included animal health, pain and
distress, and behaviour. When asked to discuss animal welfare challenges, participants focused on five primary
themes: animal welfare definition and assessment, economic barriers, and farmer, veterinarian, and researcher-
related challenges. Participants envisioned the following overarching solutions: 1) research to develop better
animal welfare assessment, 2) motivating increased adherence to standards via either voluntary incentives or
mandatory regulations, and 3) increased communication linkages between stakeholders, primarily in the form
of education to farmers and veterinarians.

progresses (Kielland et al., 2009), veterinarians show a stronger

sensitivity to animal pain than other important stakeholders like
“If we, the ones who know things, won’t do it, who will?”-Cattle
farmers (Fredriksen and Nafstad, 2006). However, concerns regarding
Veterinarian and Participant
the welfare of farm animals extend beyond the prevention of negative
affective states like pain and include issues like the animal's ability to
1. Introduction live a reasonably natural life (Fraser et al., 1997). Unfortunately, little
is known about veterinarian attitudes towards these other aspects of
The rearing conditions provided to farm animals have become a animal welfare. In addition, the duties of veterinarians to both the
common topic in discussions on the ethical challenges faced by modern animal patient and human client can create a conflict of interest
society. The past two decades have seen a series of studies that have (Morgan and McDonald, 2007), but little is known about how livestock
focused on the perceptions, attitudes and values regarding animal veterinarians experience this conflict and address it in their workplace.
welfare held by the public, both as citizens and as consumers (Boogaard The goal of the present study was to use a qualitative approach to
et al., 2011, 2008, 2006; Harper and Makatouni, 2002; Kjaernes et al., explore European cattle veterinarians’ and researchers’ perspectives on
2007; Lassen et al., 2006; Prickett et al., 2010; Vanhonacker et al., these issues. The specific aim was to describe their perceived challenges
2008). Also important are the various actors who work with the to resolving animal welfare issues and to identify their desired
livestock industries, as it is these individuals who hold much of the solutions to such problems.
power over the lives of farm animals and are most affected by policy
changes. In particular, livestock veterinarians are in a unique position 2. Methods
to provide leadership on animal welfare, as farmers generally value
their opinions (Kauppinen et al., 2010; Lam et al., 2007). 2.1. Focus group description
The veterinary profession has a long tradition of caring for ill and
injured animals, and veterinarians play a central role in mitigating pain Six focus groups were held directly before the 7th Boehringer
in animals (Hewson et al., 2007). Despite some evidence of desensi- Ingelheim Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being in Madrid, Spain
tization towards a range of known painful conditions (e.g. mastitis, in June 2014. The groups were composed of cattle veterinary practi-
laminitis, dehorning, distal limb fracture) as veterinary training tioners (dairy, beef, and mixed practice that included cattle) and

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: nina@mail.ubc.ca (M.A.G. von Keyserlingk).

Received 13 July 2015; Received in revised form 20 June 2016; Accepted 3 October 2016
1871-1413/ © 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

veterinary researchers based predominantly in Europe. Focus groups Table 2

were used to generate dynamic group interaction and elicit information Demographics of the participant sample (n=50) in the veterinary stakeholder focus
groups in Madrid, Spain.
grounded in experience (Carey and Smith, 1994). As veterinary
practitioners operate within complex social webs in farming commu- Variable Label n Percent (%)
nities, providing opportunities to discuss cattle welfare with peers was
hoped to elicit rich, in depth perspectives on these topics (Albrecht Stakeholder Veterinarian 33 66.7
Veterinary researcher 17 33.3
et al., 1993).
Trained facilitators prompted participants to discuss a series of Sex Female 15 30.0
questions over a period of 75 min. Three main questions, adapted from Male 35 70.0
Ventura et al. (2015), were presented to the participants (see Table 1
for script and order of questions). Our experiences with past focus Nationality France 7 14.0
Netherlands 7 14.0
groups (Ventura et al., 2015) indicated that individuals with close ties
Belgium 5 10.0
to the livestock industries tend to focus on technical aspects related to UK+Ireland 5 10.0
welfare issues, a phenomenon documented by others (Te Velde et al., Turkey 5 10.0
2002). To focus the discussions while still providing context, we first Germany 4 8.0
Spain 4 8.0
asked participants to describe their priority welfare concerns via an
Italy 3 6.0
online survey circulated to participants two weeks before the con- Canada 2 4.0
ference. Their answers were compiled and displayed during the focus USA 2 4.0
groups as a starting point for the live discussions. Argentina 1 2.0
New Zealand 1 2.0
Portugal 1 2.0
2.2. Participants Sweden 1 2.0
Unspecified 2 2.0
We used a convenience sample drawn from conference attendees.
As such, we did not intend the results of this study to generalize to
five pages of text. Welfare concerns from these responses were coded
broader populations of European cattle veterinarians and researchers.
into themes and sub-themes using content analysis (Coffey and
Rather, we aimed to gain an understanding of the challenges faced, and
Atkinson, 1994) and using the qualitative data management program
the solutions desired, by members of these groups. Conference
NVivo (QSY International Pty. Ltd. Version 10, 2014). Content analysis
organizers emailed focus group invitations to all conference registrants,
was likewise used for the focus group data to identify participants’
who then contacted the researchers if they wanted to participate. The
perceptions of challenges to cattle welfare and potential solutions. Two
majority of conference attendees (n=50) participated in the pre-
of the authors (B. Ventura and A. Giovanetti) independently read the
conference online questionnaire. Upon arrival at the conference each
transcripts multiple times, making notes on emerging patterns in
of these participants was assigned to one of six focus groups, each
participants’ comments and assigning themes and sub-themes to
consisting of 7–10 people. The sample was predominantly European
related sections of text. Once transcripts were coded, the two coders
(84%) and male (70%; see Table 2 for participant demographics).
compared their respective theme lists to evaluate consistency. As initial
Focus groups were largely homogeneous with respect to stakeholder
consistency was very high, coders discussed their interpretations until a
role: four of the groups were composed of veterinarians (and of those,
mutually consistent scheme was reached. Ultimately, we developed a
73% specified during the introductions that they practiced or had a
set of themes and sub-themes for both challenges and solutions, with
history of practice with dairy or beef cattle).
stakeholder roles embedded throughout the discussion of both.
In addition to the critical support roles that practicing veterinarians
Participant quotations are used below to illustrate themes and to
play for the livestock industries, people holding academic positions in
ensure transparency of the research process.
the veterinary and animal sciences frequently work closely with farm-
This research was approved by the University of British Columbia
ers and veterinarians in various supportive roles (e.g. extension,
Research Ethics Board under certificate H12-02429.
education of new veterinarians, research). Therefore, two additional
focus groups were included in the study: one composed predominantly
of veterinary researchers and the other consisting of animal scientists
working with dairy and beef cattle. 3. Results and discussion

2.3. Analyses 3.1. Perceived challenges to animal welfare

Focus group discussions were recorded and transcribed, generating Five primary challenges emerged from the discussions (see
130 pages of text. Data were transcribed by a professional transcription Table 3): animal welfare definition and assessment, economics, and
service. Content from the online questionnaire yielded an additional farmer-, veterinarian-, and researcher-related challenges.

Table 1
Script and question purpose for focus groups of cattle veterinarians and veterinary researchers.

Question Purpose of question (s)

Q1 (Main) You’ve all had a chance to take the online survey about your main cattle welfare concerns. We’ve put them up on the Lead-in and context
board, so let's keep them in mind as we move through the discussion today.
(Prompt) Is there any issue that should be added (or deleted!) or that you’d like to comment on?

Q2 (Main) How do you see your role as an industry professional in addressing these issues? Solutions (current successes and desired
(Prompts) What are you currently doing to address these issues? What would you like to be doing but currently are not? actions)

Q3 (Main) What other stakeholders do you need more support from in order to meet these goals (and how so)? Solutions and challenges
(Prompt) Are there any other challenges to meeting your role that haven’t been mentioned?

B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

Table 3
Themes discussed by participants in the context of challenges to animal welfare (AW) and the proportion of focus groups (n=6) in which each theme emerged.

Challenges to AW Theme description Proportion of groups where theme discussed

Definition & assessment Lack of consensus on meaning of AW; complexity of AW; difficulties in AW evaluation 6/6
Economic Low incoming cash flow; market instability; complex relationship between AW and production 5/6
Farmer 6/6
Knowledge/awareness Deficits in farmer knowledge or awareness of AW issues and solutions 4/6
Attitudes Cultural and psychological impediments that contributed to farmer unwillingness to address AW 6/6
Management Reactive management; low self-efficacy 6/6
Veterinarian 6/6
Knowledge Deficits in veterinarian knowledge about AW issues; inadequate AW education in curriculum 2/6
Attitudes Dismissal or avoidance of AW issues 4/6
Self-efficacy Conflict of interest between client and animal leads to constraints against veterinary action 4/6
Researcher Questionable relevance of research to reality; conflict between practical solutions and AW 2/6

3.1.1. Defining and assessing animal welfare dual farmers from experimenting with higher welfare systems and
Each group described difficulties with defining and assessing advocating for high welfare with their peers. Other concerns included
animal welfare on farms. For instance, one participant stated that, the differences in economic security across countries as a result of
“One of the big things that stands in the way for us with welfare…a lot variable animal welfare legislation, the high costs of meeting certain
of it is definition. How you define animal welfare.” Others noted that standards and the lack of funds for inspection of standards.
they were often too narrow in their own definition of animal welfare, The question of economics is one that frequently surfaces when
which they argued hindered progress: “As veterinarians, I’m certainly discussing farm animal welfare with farmers and other stakeholders
guilty of looking at…health and production as…a proxy for welfare… linked to the livestock industries (de Lauwere et al., 2015; Frewer et al.,
and they’re not really a very good measure of welfare holistically.” 2005; Hubbard et al., 2007; Kauppinen et al., 2010; Skarstad et al.,
Some participants also argued that the lack of agreement surrounding 2007; Spooner et al., 2014). Participant comments in the present study
the definition of animal welfare contributed to inconsistent messaging revealed a paradoxical view of the relationship between animal welfare
to farmers: “I think the farmer sees a lot of consultants…I would wish and economics. Some believed the relationship between welfare and
that all those guys come to the same point regarding the welfare economics to be positive, e.g. “better welfare is linear with more
because I know that some economical consultants also recommend production.” This belief, documented also among Dutch dairy farmers
overstocking about 10%…it's people like that I would like to come to and their advisors (de Lauwere et al., 2015), as well as members of the
the same point.” general public in the U.S. (Cardoso et al., 2016), is likely rooted in
Many participants expressed sentiments along the lines of “we’re values that emphasize biological health and functioning as an impor-
still looking for good tools to measure the welfare problems.” The lack tant determinant of animal welfare (Broom, 1991; McGlone, 1993;
of validated measures was felt to hinder efforts to improve welfare. For Moberg, 1985). Participants likewise argued that bad welfare was bad
example, many stated that the lack of tools to measure pain prevented for business, particularly in cases of abuse by “bad apple” farmers that
them from helping farmers detect painful conditions like lameness. harmed the reputation of the industry. However, many of these same
Some also criticized approaches such as the reliance on environmental participants also appeared to believe in an inverse relationship between
versus animal-based indicators. Others commented that some existing welfare and economics, evident through comments that high welfare
technologies could be used to assess welfare but that others were provisions often required costly investments in infrastructure and/or
insufficient or prone to malfunction. management changes, e.g. “and of course increasing the management,
Participants’ confusion regarding the definition and assessment of increasing the welfare of the animals, increasing the prevention—
welfare reflects variation in the definitions of welfare in the literature. cost[s] them [the farmer] money.”
For example, the multi-pronged concept proposed by Fraser et al. De Jonge and van Trijp (2013) describe an inherent conflict
(1997), and adapted for dairy cattle by von Keyserlingk et al. (2009), between the belief that current production methods are necessary to
includes biological functioning, affective state and natural living remain competitive and the desire to ensure a good life for animals
concerns. Others have argued for more simple measures; for instance, (and avoid conflict with social concerns). Some of our participants
Duncan (1993) placed emphasis on affective state (e.g. emotions) and clearly experienced this same conflict and seemed to believe that
Curtis (2007) argued that welfare assessment should be limited to modifications to improve animal welfare could be both economically
biological health and production outcomes. risky and advantageous. For others, this matter appeared to be context-
dependent such that changes were beneficial for some issues but risky
3.1.2. Economics for others. Still others seemed to reconcile the conflict through beliefs
All but one group viewed economic challenges as a barrier that costly short-term investments (e.g. deeper bedding) could trans-
preventing improvements in cattle welfare. Participants expressed late to long-term economic benefits (e.g. higher cow comfort, lower
concern with low income, associated with low prices for animal lameness and hock injuries, leading to improved cow longevity and
products (e.g. milk and meat) and difficulties in securing loans from milk production).
banks to invest in high welfare infrastructure changes. For example,
one participant argued, “Once again the problem…is that it's very hard 3.1.3. The role of the farmer
to convince the farmer…[to avoid shortcuts]…when the price of milk is As has been noted by others (Driessen, 2012), the farmer was
so low…” Some participants suggested that consumer demand for low widely perceived as the most critical stakeholder. Every focus group
cost/high welfare products was problematic, commenting that con- considered farmer-related issues to affect animal welfare, including low
sumer willingness to pay for high quality products must rise. One awareness and knowledge, attitudes and tradition, and management
participant echoed this through his frustration with supermarkets skills.
selling milk as a “loss leader”, i.e. using cheap milk to entice consumers Overall there was consensus that many farmers and farm workers
to enter the supermarket with the hope that they would buy other lacked awareness of certain welfare problems, which is in line with
products. work with Dutch dairy farmers’ perceived limitations (de Lauwere
Others argued that highly competitive markets discouraged indivi- et al., 2015). Some referenced the limited conceptions of animal

B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

welfare held by farmers, as well as a lack of awareness of refinements in participants, described by one individual as, “It's a difficult thing to—
pain management, handling and disease detection, e.g. “I would say when you’re part of the thing—to take it forward.” The need to protect
that a lot of farmers still don’t see that there is a welfare problem the economic health of their client (the farmer) at the occasional
when cows are sick.” These gaps in knowledge and understanding were expense of the animal was viewed as a constraint by these veterinar-
generally attributed to a lack of training. ians:
Participants often focused on farmers’ attitudes to pain in cattle,
The biggest challenge in this issue is that they are our clients, so we
widely finding them to be deficient in some way. These perspectives
depend on them for our income…It's easy if you have a sick cow
aligned quite closely with research demonstrating that farmers tend to
and you heal it…but if you give advice about animal welfare…
approach pain according to context and issue, such that chronically
As veterinarians, sometimes we are a bit restricted because it's a
painful conditions are prioritized (e.g. lameness, Leach et al., 2010a,
client of ours. We can’t say that it's not good at all, what you are
2010b) while shorter-term painful experiences (e.g. dehorning or
doing, otherwise we’ll lose a client.
castration) are given less emphasis (Phillips et al., 2009; Spooner
et al., 2012; Tuyttens et al., 2012; Vanhonacker et al., 2008). Morgan and McDonald (2007) refer to the balance between client
Farmer acceptance of the status quo was also believed to contribute and patient interests as “the fundamental question in veterinary
to welfare problems, as evidenced, for example, by perceived accep- medical ethics” (pp. 165) and explain that, “choices are hard to make
tance of high rates of calf mortality and morbidity as the norm on some because of contextual factors, such as potential negative responses
farms. Some participants also believed that long-standing traditions from clients or loss of income. These situations are not moral
translated into inaction by some farmers. One veterinarian described it dilemmas in a strict sense, because an ethically correct solution is
thus: “I found that the farmers love their cows, but they’re not aware apparent but is difficult to enact,” (pp. 166). These so-called ‘practical
about these welfare issues…Because everything has been done the dilemmas’ were clearly felt by the veterinarian participants in the
same way for hundreds of years, and why suddenly are we talking present study.
about welfare and pain? ” Many veterinarians spoke of the difficulty of Others have observed that livestock veterinarians strongly value the
broaching the subject of welfare with their clients, noting that farmers relationship between themselves and the farmer, and want their clients
were often reluctant to acknowledge welfare problems on their farm: “I to prosper (de Lauwere et al., 2015). This desire to maintain a good
will have discussions with producers and they say ‘I don’t want you to relationship with the client may manifest in a focus on the monetary
write that [problem] down’.” aspects of animal care – observed across veterinary professions (Coe
Participants also linked poor knowledge, resistance to change, and et al., 2007; de Lauwere et al., 2015) – and may explain why
poor management. Some felt, for example, that farmers’ management veterinarians feel so caught between their patients’ and clients’ needs.
strategies were the result of reacting to problems rather than planning
for success. Others commented that farmers failed to implement 3.1.5. The role of the researcher
effective solutions even in cases where they were aware of the problem. Although the role of researchers was generally discussed in the
Yet others considered that farmers’ actions were limited by circum- context of solutions, two groups identified specific challenges related to
stances beyond their control, for example when farmers are required to researchers. Those who discussed the issue tended to agree that
adhere to too many standards (e.g. “And sometimes it's very hard for researchers, like veterinarians, struggled to connect with farmers.
the farmer to understand all the rules”). Often as a result of scant on-farm research, many felt that it was
difficult to translate research findings to the reality of working farms.
3.1.4. The role of the veterinarian This problem may be seen as two-fold (as discussed by Norton and
Previous research has shown that veterinarians are recognized as Mumford (1993) on the topic of pest management, with similar
important advisors to farmers (de Lauwere et al., 2015; Jansen et al., challenges for researcher-farmer interaction): first, researchers may
2010b; Lam et al., 2007), but the veterinarians participating in the face a design problem by asking the wrong questions, and secondly,
focus groups described many challenges (including poor knowledge, researchers may be asking the right questions but fail to effectively
attitudes and self-efficacy) in fulfilling this role. translate findings to farmers. Thus, “if researchers are to design
Some groups argued that veterinarians lacked knowledge on key appropriate improvements…they must understand why farmers do
topics like animal behaviour and pain, which in turn compromised the things they do” (p. 1, Escalada and Heong, 1997). Of course, one of
their ability to help. Many attributed the lack of knowledge to the most direct ways to correct this deficit is to integrate social science
inadequate animal welfare education in the veterinary curriculum, a approaches (e.g. farmer interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc.) into
finding that aligns with studies on veterinarian attitudes about pain in animal science research agendas to obtain grounded information from
North America (Dohoo and Dohoo, 1996; Hellyer et al., 1999) and in which to design research programs.
Europe (Capner et al., 1999; Raekallio et al., 2003). Like veterinarians, some researchers also experienced a conflict of
Participants also criticized the ‘traditional’ thinking of some older interest. These participants felt that it was important to develop a
professionals that allowed welfare issues such as pain to be dismissed. strong rapport with farmers to increase receptivity to the research
For example, one person stated that, “At the time we started as findings. As one researcher described: “I think if you don’t sort of go
practitioners, it was a long time ago and pain management [was] native…if they don’t buy in, the research is sort of moot,
never talked about, [the] cow never had pain…I think there has to be a right?” However, building rapport might also require more compro-
mentality change.” This culture of avoidance and denial clearly affected mise on the direction of research, in which case, “the concern is that
some of the participants, who noted that they often had difficulty then actually the research is driven by them [the farmer]…It shouldn’t
speaking up when they encountered welfare problems on the farm: be how it works because sometimes we’re going to have to address
things that they don’t really want to address.” Compromising on
One of the major problems is getting vets to want to talk about
research objectivity could then lead to a loss in credibility, as one
participant witnessed: “I…had some particular experiences with
I think we often ignore stuff…choose not to mention it…That's a
colleagues…where they’ve been really…criticized for being too close
weakness. I think we’re allowing too much of this to go on, whether
to the industry…sort of gone native and have taken over the view of
it be animals being taken to the slaughterhouse in inappropriate
the producer rather than there being some distance there…” At issue
trucks or down. You know, we’ve all seen those situations, and
here is a perceived loss of objectivity (or compromised research goals),
sometimes we turn a blind eye.
particularly for researchers charged with finding solutions to animal
Central to this issue is the conflict of interest experienced by many health or welfare problems, which could hinder potential discovery of

B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

solutions. If you could provide incentives — you get more money or you get a
better contract or something — that's probably a better way of
3.2. Desired solutions getting farmers to buy into welfare.
This need to cultivate industry stakeholders’ overall agreement was
A number of key themes emerged on participants’ desired solutions
a unifying theme (we use the term ‘industry stakeholder’ here to
to these challenges (see Table 4). Themes were identified as follows:
indicate any actor working within the livestock production chain, as
better research to address the lack of objective measures for welfare
well as those whose work contributes to it. Under this definition,
and to develop quantifiable standards, motivating adherence to these
farmers, industry representatives, veterinarians, relevant academics,
standards via either voluntary inspections or mandatory audits, and
and service providers would all have a stake in cattle production).
increasing linkages among stakeholders, particularly in the form of
Participants’ desire for ownership over the industry's welfare chal-
lenges was further reflected by the widespread belief that force for
change must originate from within the industry, perhaps best captured
3.2.1. Research
by the comment, “If we, the ones who know things, won’t do it, who
Of those who discussed research as a solution, most agreed that
will do it? ”
practical objective welfare measures were needed (e.g. “I think in the
Despite widespread support, some participants expressed concerns
future, the research is important, but it's important this data is easy to
about relying on voluntary mechanisms. Some concerns related to
collect”). Many also felt that researchers had a pivotal role in “devel-
product differentiation, with participants commenting that the bonus
oping science-based standard operating procedures” that could be
system may perpetuate the gap between niche and conventional farms.
used on farms and for policy guidance.
Other concerns were practical. For example, traceability could be a
Participants also expressed the desire for researchers to become
major challenge with pooling of milk from different farms and with
more involved with farmers, primarily through increased extension.
movements of animals between farms throughout the production cycle.
Suggested changes included minor adjustments in communication (e.g.
Mandatory regulations. Participants also debated the potential of
couching recommendations in language more familiar to farmers) as
government and industry-driven regulations for which compliance was
well as more on-farm research to help engage farmers. Underscoring
mandatory under threat of penalties (often through fines or market
recommendations to better engage farmers was the desire for research-
loss, e.g. milk buyers refusing to buy milk from noncompliant farms).
ers to serve as a bridge between stakeholders within and external to the
Those advocating for mandatory regulation felt that the cattle
cattle industries. For example, participating researchers spoke of
industries required greater external oversight through legislation.
wanting to liaise with policy makers and industry to advocate for
Some participants believed simply that external regulation was neces-
change, e.g. “researchers also have a role to play…of bringing new
sary to enforce change: “…in my opinion, the only way of changing a
issues to the fore.”
farmer is by penalties.” Others supported a system of external
regulations because it was needed to increase transparency and societal
3.2.2. Motivating adherence to standards
accountability. Such participants believed that self-governance by the
Participants recognized the need for increased adherence to stan-
industry was insufficient or ineffective. One participant felt that
dards if the cattle industries are to progress in improving animal
regulation trumped the need to give individual farmers total freedom
welfare. Much of this discussion related to the relative merits of
to manage their farms: “The question is, simply because the producer
voluntary programs built on incentives versus mandatory regulations.
is doing a sub-optimal job…is that a good reason to actually
Voluntary incentives. Participants in approximately half of the
compromise [by allowing the farmer to regulate himself]…Is that
focus groups explicitly discussed monetary incentives (often termed
justification to compromise on animal welfare? ” From this perspec-
“bonuses” by participants) as a method to motivate welfare improve-
tive, submitting to regulation from external sources was a matter of
ment. Dairy industry organizations and milk companies were the most
achieving legitimacy for the cattle industries, i.e. a way to conform to a
commonly suggested groups to compensate farmers for adhering to
set of social norms and expectations (see Bradley and MacRae (2011)
good practice, at least in the shorter term. Some suggested increasing
for a thorough discussion of the relationship between legitimacy and
the price to consumers to cover these costs.
animal welfare standards).
Those advocating for bonuses believed them to be necessary to
Though it may be difficult to reconcile this support for legislation
offset farmers’ costs of adhering to standards and that more punitive
with the negative attitudes toward punitive approaches in general,
approaches would compromise farmers’ economic viability. Bonuses
participants’ support of legislation makes more sense when considering
were also seen to be a good alternative to circumvent concerns about
that this was seen to confer protective benefits for complying farmers
lack of enforcement with legislated standards. Most prominent was the
by preventing free-riding from “bad apple” farmers. In other words,
belief that a reward-based system would be more palatable and thus
unless all farmers within an industry are held to similar standards (and
engender greater uptake by farmers:
thus bear the costs of adherence equitably), the free-riding problem
You want to take people with you…get them to see what they’re threatens the social license of all farmers to produce these animal
doing rather than tell them. I can see the penalty side of things… products (Croney and Botheras, 2010). In this context, it makes sense
but I think it's very dangerous. that participants in the current study appeared more likely to support

Table 4
Themes discussed by participants in the context of desired solutions for animal welfare (AW) challenges, and the proportion of focus groups (n=6) in which each theme emerged.

AW solutions Theme description Proportion of groups where theme


Research Development of objective measurements for AW; increased relevance of research to farm 4/6
Motivating standards adherence Industry must conform to higher standards and be transparent
Bonuses Reward-based approaches to motivate compliance 3/6
Regulations Punishment-based approaches to force compliance 2/6
Increased linkages Improved communication and education to farmers, farm workers, veterinarians, and future 6/6
external stakeholders

B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

legislation to create minimum standards. Participants also stressed the need to emphasize consequences of
However, not all participants viewed mandatory regulation, parti- pro-welfare management changes and to equip farmers with the
cularly from sources external to the industry (e.g. government) as practical evidence of changes wherever possible, e.g. “Practical evi-
positive. Many worried about the potential lack of farmer participation dence. For a farmer, that can convince him.” Specifically, it was
in the development of standards, which was perceived to contribute to important to use data from the farmer's own farm to chart changes over
excessively burdensome or unrealistic regulatory environments. time, as one veterinarian shared: “When you measure something, if
Contributing to this problem was the perception that regulations were you had a tool to measure, it will improve…you’re having a discussion
often overseen by people with low knowledge of the reality of farming, with the farmer and say look, you’re 3 out of 5 here, but you could be a
e.g. “…what is the knowledge of [farming] from the person [doing] the 4…” Another participant's suggestion to pursue benchmarking aligns
regulation? I think that in France it's close to zero, because the person closely with this suggestion. Benchmarking, which entails “the sys-
who does the regulation probably never went onto a farm.” tematic comparison on elements of performance in a company
Thus, regardless of their stance on external versus internal regula- against those best practices of relevant companies,” (Lau et al.,
tion of welfare standards, the participants who commented generally 2005) has been used successfully in the past to improve performance
perceived industry input, especially from farmers, to be essential in the and welfare indicators by fostering knowledge exchange among live-
process. Bradley and MacRae (2011) explain that “whether stake- stock farmers (Chapinal et al., 2014; Khade and Metlen, 1996;
holders will participate in the process or adopt voluntary commit- Manning et al., 2008; von Keyserlingk et al., 2012).
ments depends on whether they consider the regulatory body or Many participants emphasized that successful education must
network developing the rules to be authoritative, to use right process, include messaging to connect welfare to production and economic
to be adding value—in other words, to be legitimate,” (p. 22). Others benefits. This was a common suggestion among veterinarians, e.g. “We
(von Keyserlingk and Hötzel, 2015) have proposed similar industry-led need to try to convince them that if he will ensure the welfare of his
initiatives as a way forward to improve animal welfare; though the animals, he will have more money in his bank account.” This theme
efficacy of such initiatives remains to be seen, the higher perceived was also repeated across groups. As a veterinarian in another group
“input legitimacy” (Skogstad, 2003) of such an approach may prove reiterated, “Our work is to say…you will lose money if you don’t do
effective. that.” Emphasizing the economic benefits of welfare changes was
suggested to be a factor in prompting farmers to take a more
3.2.3. Increased linkages progressive view of welfare: “Pick the low hanging fruit where animal
Within every group, participants discussed the need for greater welfare actually goes very well together with productivity.”
linkages among industry stakeholders and between industry stake- Participants discussed both hands-off and interpersonal approaches
holders and society. For example, participants spoke of the need for to education, the former including articles in agriculture magazines,
veterinarians to liaise with service providers (e.g. taking a more active online articles (noted to have the advantage of cost effectiveness and
role in advising in barn design); for researchers to communicate more quick delivery), and extension manuals. Dutch dairy farmers surveyed
directly to veterinarians; for multiple stakeholders (veterinarians, by de Lauwere et al. (2015) appeared to prefer these more traditional
researchers, dairy organizations, and farmers) to be more connected methods of information delivery to routes like workshops, even though
to societal concerns about animal welfare; and most prominently, for other research suggests that these routes are less effective in promoting
veterinarians, researchers, and other service providers to strengthen behaviour change compared to methods that involve some interperso-
their communication with farmers. Many also advocated for improved nal interaction (Gielen et al., 2003). In contrast, our participants
consultation with farmers, both as a way to improve education (by typically spent more time discussing face-to-face education routes.
eliciting input on how they want to receive information; see de Lauwere Some veterinarians shared success stories of organizing training
et al., 2015; Jansen et al., 2010a, 2010b for examples) and also to workshops for farmers, though others did not see this approach as
increase farmers’ agency (by involving them in standards development feasible due to time constraints. More agreed that veterinarians could
and larger industry decisions). take a more proactive role in speaking up when they encountered poor
Education. Although all groups discussed the need to engage both management on farm, and in so doing participate in a level of informal
farmers and veterinarians through improved education, farmers were education. Modelling good practice while on farm was thus suggested
generally perceived as those in most need of attention. Farmer as a simple way for veterinarians to change management habits, for
education was generally felt to be a collective responsibility, with example, by providing pain medication when dehorning or castrating
veterinarians, researchers, extension agents, and industry organiza- calves.
tions all offered as the best people to take leadership in this regard. A popular suggestion was for veterinarians and others to facilitate
Participants envisioned many goals for farmer education, including peer-peer networks among farmers to increase farmers’ ability to
but not limited to the following: increased awareness of animal welfare connect with and learn from each other. This approach was seen as a
principles; improved management skills like handling and practical positive way to improve farmer uptake of information, as participants
assessment skills like disease and lameness detection; reorientation of believed that farmers would listen to each other. This belief was evident
philosophy to place greater emphasis on the cow; and improved in participants’ recommendations to incorporate farmer stories of
proactivity (elements of which included active and sustained contact success into messaging and in their advocacy for the creation of
with veterinarians and other advisors and having an established herd peer-peer education strategies like farmer-led workshops, a concept
health plan). reminiscent of the farmer field schools used to foster mutual learning,
To reach these goals, participants offered many suggestions, among empowerment, and goal-meeting among dairy farmers (Vaarst et al.,
them that educators must consider farmers’ motivations and tailor 2007): “One thing that does help is telling a success story to another
their approach accordingly, a suggestion that aligns with other research farmer…because the farmer will believe another farmer before he
on segmentation among farmers with respect to their motivations and believes anyone else.”
trust in external information sources (Jansen et al., 2010a, 2010b). In In addition to the farmer, participants suggested that other people
the present study, farmers were perceived to have differing motiva- should be targeted with education. One interesting suggestion in
tions. As one veterinarian commented, “I think one of the key things is multiple groups was to direct training efforts specifically at women
that you need to understand the farmer…some farmers are money on the farm. For example, one veterinarian commented that he had
driven. Some farmers are [pride] driven, so they’d like to think their found success organizing workshops for farmers’ wives, whom he found
cows look better than the neighbours’…Depending on what farmers to be “…one of the biggest stakeholders in…pain relief.” The idea here
you’re talking about, you need to press the right buttons.” was that women were perceived as naturally tending to take on more

B.A. Ventura et al. Livestock Science 193 (2016) 95–102

caregiving roles on the farm (particularly with regards to calf care). conference, including Drs. Elke Abbeloos and Laurent Goby. Finally,
While most research on the subject has indeed indicated a higher level we thank Drs. D. Fraser and H. Wittman, and C. Sumner for feedback
of pro-animal welfare attitudes and behaviour among women com- on earlier versions of this manuscript. B.A. Ventura was supported
pared to men (see Herzog, 2007 for a review; Herzog et al., 1991) it is through the University of British Columbia's Doctoral Fellowship
also important to note that variation within the sexes tends to be higher Program.
than between them (Herzog, 2007).
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