Farmers’ attitudes to sanctions and rewards as motivators to reduce lameness in sheep

Lameness in sheep is endemic across the UK; it is painful, and a significant welfare concern. In England, the prevalence of lameness had fallen from 10% (2004 estimate) to 5% by 2013. This reduction in prevalence was associated with the use of recently identified evidence-based recommendations to manage lameness. Despite this, many farmers do not follow the new recommendations. Therefore, this paper investigated routes to encourage behavioural change, through sanctions, rewards or legislation.

A questionnaire was sent out to sheep farmers asking what they considered to be the upper acceptable limit of prevalence of lameness in various scenarios, and what the fairest outcomes from inspections were by scenario and level of lameness. In addition, farmers were asked to select the statement which best described their understanding of the current law regarding the care and transport of lame sheep in England.

The upper acceptable prevalence of lameness ranged from 5% - 10% depending on scenario; respondents were more lenient on farmers with high prevalence of lameness when it was outside of their control. Rewards were considered acceptable when farmers consistently had 2% lame sheep and sanctions when 10% sheep were lame. Respondents were able to evaluate the consequences of sanctions to the wider industry and their own business. The results could be used to inform future changes to inspection frameworks and evaluate how inspections on farms could be used to reduce prevalence of lameness. One area for development highlighted, which may in-turn improve animal welfare and the uptake of best practice, is to increase farmers’ understanding of the current welfare legislation.

Liu NLBH, Kaler J, Ferguson E, O'Kane H, and Green LE (2018) Sheep farmers' attitudes to farm inspections and the role of sanctions and rewards as motivation to reduce the prevalence of lameness. Animal Welfare 27: 67-79.
DOI: 10.7120/09627286.27.1.067