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A participatory approach to design monitoring indicators of production diseases in organic dairy farms

Duval, J.E., Fourichon, C., Madouasse, A., Sjöström, K., Emanuelson, U., Bareille, N.
Preventive veterinary medicine 2016 v.128 pp. 12-22
adverse effects, animal production, compliance, dairy cows, dairy farming, farmers, farms, herd health, monitoring, organic production, production technology, qualitative analysis, scientists, France, Sweden
Production diseases have an important negative effect on the health and welfare of dairy cows. Although organic animal production systems aim for high animal health levels, compliance with European organic farming regulations does not guarantee that this is achieved. Herd health and production management (HHPM) programs aim at optimizing herd health by preventing disease and production problems, but as yet they have not been consistently implemented by farmers. We hypothesize that one reason is the mismatch between what scientists propose as indicators for herd health monitoring and what farmers would like to use. Herd health monitoring is a key element in HHPM programs as it permits a regular assessment of the functioning of the different components of the production process. Planned observations or measurements of these components are indispensable for this monitoring. In this study, a participatory approach was used to create an environment in which farmers could adapt the indicators proposed by scientists for monitoring the five main production diseases on dairy cattle farms. The adaptations of the indicators were characterized and the farmers’ explanations for the changes made were described. The study was conducted in France and Sweden, which differ in terms of their national organic regulations and existing advisory services. In both countries, twenty certified organic dairy farmers and their animal health management advisors participated in the study. All of the farmers adapted the initial monitoring plan proposed by scientists to specific production and animal health situation on their farm. This resulted in forty unique and farm-specific combinations of indicators for herd health monitoring. All but three farmers intended to monitor five health topics simultaneously using the constructed indicators. The qualitative analysis of the explanations given by farmers for their choices enabled an understanding of farmers’ reasons for selecting and adapting indicators. This is valuable information for scientists involved in the design of HHPM programs. Advisors in the field also can benefit from this participatory approach because it transforms monitoring tools provided by scientists into farm-specific tools.