Dairy Cow Welfare And Farmer Attitudes In Sweden
This study relies on a conceptual framework to better understand farmers’ attitudes, decisions, and behavior related to farmed animal welfare. The framework, called the “means-end chain” (MEC) model, identifies the particular values underlying specific decisions that farmers make regarding animal treatment.
The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 50 dairy farmers in Sweden. The size of the farms varied widely, with an average of 74.4 dairy cows per farm. Using the MEC model, the interviewer asked each farmer to name one of their farming practices. Throughout the conversation, the interviewers would continually ask, “Why is that important?” until the issue could no longer be explored. The interviewer then asked the farmer to name another farming practice, and the cycle continued until the farmer named all relevant practices. One of the practices that many of the farmers in this study mentioned was “good feeding.”
When asked why good feeding mattered, many of the farmers answered that it made animals feel good. When asked why they wanted animals to feel good, the farmers pointed to a number of values, some of which related to business success. For example, an animal feeling good ultimately leads to increased profitability. This supports farmers’ values of earning a living, feeling good about themselves, and maintaining their business. But other values were not as closely tied to business ends: ethics, a desire to do the right thing, and an obligation to prevent suffering were also frequently noted.
In fact, the researchers found that ensuring animals feel good was the most central idea in dairy farmers’ decision-making processes related to animal treatment. The farmers perceived the animals’ well-being as crucial for improved production and profitability and as an end in itself. The researchers also found that most of the farmers used part of their profits to improve animal welfare beyond the minimum required to run a successful farm.
The researchers point out that further application of the MEC model is needed before drawing any broad conclusions about farmers’ values and decision-making process. For example, studies should be done outside of Sweden, on farms of different sizes, and with farmers who keep other species other than cows. An analysis of how values are correlated with actual investments related to animal welfare would also be instructive.
Knowing more about the connections between farmers’ values and their decision-making and behavior is useful to ensure the welfare of animals on farms. Knowing the farmers’ chain of reasoning and how they express their values could enhance the dialog between activists and farmers, possibly leading to the implementation of animal welfare measures that are agreeable to all stakeholders.