Student’s research impresses at Sheep Veterinary Congress

sheep student SM Farm
SURVEY: RAU student Tayla Harding. Picture: Mikal Ludlow

A student’s research revealing the need for improved communication between vets and sheep farmers impressed delegates at a major industry conference.

Tayla Harding shared the results of a survey she devised and carried out for her Royal Agricultural University (RAU) dissertation with an audience of industry professionals at the Sheep Veterinary Congress.

The title of the Applied Farm Management student’s presentation was ‘Understanding the level of interaction between the Sheep Farmer and Veterinarian in the South West of England and the reasons for this’.

Her work at the RAU, whose campus is in Cirencester, found that vets and farmers both believed that a high turnover of vets in practise and lack of specialist knowledge surrounding the sheep sector were barriers to regular interaction between the farmer and vet.

Farmers placed cost as the biggest reason for lack of interaction, and this was also mirrored in the responses from the veterinarian data, where cost was also detailed as the main reason alongside market prices and value of stock.

Another significant finding was that many farmers were not aware of ‘Flock Health Clubs’ set up in practise. On the other hand, farmers who were actively participating in the clubs found them invaluable.

This suggested that although communication does occur between the farmer and vet there are several aspects which need improving on both sides to develop a healthy working relationship which promotes excellent communication.

Navaratnam Partheeban, a vet and a senior lecturer in Livestock Production at the RAU, said: “Tayla was the only non-vet to present on that day and she got a great response even though some of her findings were not what some of the vets expected.

“Vets had talked about their successes on farm and the health schemes that were in existence but Tayla did highlight some of the realities in the field from a farmer’s perspective.

“Some vets were disappointed with her findings and tried to discount them but many in the room believed it was great that Tayla was able to highlight some challenges to us in the veterinary profession around how we interact and communicate with sheep farmers.

“Questions from the audience included why farmers felt this way, how recent the results were (2019) and how Tayla obtained her results (many different places, including breed societies and the National Sheep Association).

“It was great for her to present to experts in the field and give research that is honest and realistic. There has been very little published research in this area so it was very unique and recent.”

Tayla, who is staying on at the RAU for a Masters degree, said: “The conference was a fantastic experience to present my findings to a room of industry professionals.

“Although the results seemed controversial for some, I hope it has provided an up-to-date perspective on how farmers view the role of a veterinarian in the sheep industry and the areas which need improvement to enable excellent interaction between the two parties.”

The RAU was invited to speak at the event by the Sheep Veterinary Society.

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