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How benchmarking motivates farmers to improve dairy calf management

Sumner, Christine L., von Keyserlingk, Marina A.G., Weary, Daniel M.
Journal of dairy science 2018 v.101 no.4 pp. 3323-3333
colostrum, dairy calves, farmers, farms, hunger, milk, passive immunity, qualitative analysis, British Columbia
Dairy calves often receive inadequate colostrum for successful transfer of passive immunity and inadequate milk to achieve their potential for growth and avoid hunger, but little is known about what motivates farmers to improve calf management around these concerns. Our aim was to assess if and how access to benchmarking reports, providing data on calf performance and peer comparison, would change the ways in which farmers think about calves and their management. During our study, 18 dairy farmers in the lower Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada) each received 2 benchmark reports that conveyed information on transfer of immunity and calf growth for their own calves and for other farms in the region. Farmers were interviewed before and after receiving their benchmarking reports to gain an understanding of how they perceived access to information in the reports. We conducted qualitative analysis to identify major themes. Respondents generally saw having access to these data and peer comparisons favorably, in part because the reports provided evidence of how their calves were performing. Benchmarking encouraged farmers to make changes in their calf management by identifying areas needing attention and promoting discussion about best practices. We conclude that some management problems can be addressed by providing farmers better access to data that they can use to judge their success and inform changes.