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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding farmer decision-making and the role of advisors to improve dairy cattle welfare Mills, Katelyn E.


Canadian dairy farms are becoming increasingly complex businesses with many farms growing in size which requires increased labor. These changes have resulted in new challenges for farmers, including having to balance the human resource management needs of their farm with traditional duties of animal care. To improve animal welfare on farms, it is important to understand the views of the farmers responsible for the day-to-day care of the animals, as well as their advisors such as veterinarians. The overall objective of this thesis was to improve understanding of dairy farmer decision-making on animal care practices and how advisors influence these decisions, focusing on the perspectives of stakeholders in the lower Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, Canada. Chapter 1 introduces the concept of animal welfare and the context for this research. Chapter 2 reviews the available literature on five human resource management concepts on dairy farms: 1) professional accreditation and professional development, 2) extension activities, 3) the role of the advisor, 4) standard operating procedures and, 5) employee training. Chapter 3 describes an interview study with farmers and veterinarians that set out to understand the barriers to improved care of cows around the time of calving, a time period when cows are at increased risk of disease. Chapter 4 describes a participatory study that involved working with farmers to develop standard operating procedures for newborn calf care, including understanding the role of the advisor in this process. Using secondary analysis of the datasets arising from Chapters 3 and 4, Chapter 5 describes a study aimed at understanding who farmers consult across management practices. Lastly, Chapter 6 presents a general discussion, including a description of the contributions arising from this thesis and suggestions for future research including: 1) understanding the extension needs of farmers in Canada, 2) integrating participatory methods in policy, training program and extension curriculum development, and 3) understanding how farmers make animal care decisions with the aid of technology and data on farms. This thesis adds to the growing discussion regarding farmer decision-making and how advisors, including researchers, can work with farmers to improve the lives of the animals under their care.

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