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J Dairy Sci. 2010 Mar;93(3):1296-306. doi: 10.3168/jds.2009-2794.

Debunking the myth of the hard-to-reach farmer: effective communication on udder health.

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Communication Science, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands.


Worldwide, programs to control mastitis are implemented using different strategies to reach farmers. Even though education materials and best practices may be technically optimal, they need to be used to be successful. Thus, effective communication with farmers is essential in order to change their behavior and to improve their farm management. During a Dutch national mastitis control program, a substantial number of farmers seemed to be hard to reach with information on udder health. Consequently, this study was designed to provide insight into the attitude and motivation of such farmers. In the period of October 2007 to July 2008, 24 in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted with farmers whose veterinarians considered to be difficult to approach with advice on udder health management (8 practices, 3 farmers from each practice). The interviews included questions about the farms and the farmers, their attitude and behavior regarding mastitis, and their information sources and social environment. The results show that so-called hard-to-reach farmers were not always badly informed about udder health and did not always experience problems with mastitis. These ostensibly unreachable farmers were not a homogeneous group, but rather could be divided into 4 categories based on their trust in external information sources regarding mastitis and their orientation toward the outside world: proactivists, do-it-yourselfers, wait-and-see-ers, and reclusive traditionalists. There are ample opportunities to reach hard-to-reach farmers, provided that the communication strategies are tailored to their specific needs. There is especially much to gain in communication with do-it-yourselfers and wait-and-see-ers, but this demands a more proactive role on the part of veterinarians and extension specialists. Different types of farmers need to be approached in different ways and through different channels with information on udder health. Consequently, this study can contribute to the optimization of future programs designed to control and prevent diseases.

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