PhD in Overcoming Human Barriers to Uptake of Condition Scoring in the Beef Industry


This PhD project is part of a competition funded by SRUC. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover tuition fees at the UK rate, plus a stipend to support living costs.

The proportion of international students appointed through this competition is capped at 30%. All students must meet the entry criteria for the PhD in Agriculture, Rural and Environmental Studies.

The Project

Keeping pregnant beef cows at the right level of body condition (neither fat nor thin) prevents negative welfare outcomes and improves the environmental and economic efficiency of beef production. This is important as beef production is economically crucial to rural communities but is a major contributor to the climate crisis. Condition scoring cows requires only a few seconds of effort and no additional equipment, but is performed by less than 5% of farmers. The very low uptake of this simple management practice negatively affects farm efficiency, animal welfare and environmental impact. In our previous work, around 20% of cows in the national herd were below the recommended body condition at calving. This PhD will study the psychological, social, motivational, and economic barriers that prevent adoption of condition scoring and test an intervention to improve uptake.

The project has four objectives, each forming a thesis chapter (though the student will be encouraged to influence the research direction). Objective 1 will understand the perceptions of condition scoring among farmers and vets and identify the barriers to adoption. With farmers, this will focus primarily on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is self-determined by the individual. Extrinsic motivation stems from external punishment or reward and avoidance of guilt or protection of self-esteem. Enhancing intrinsic motivation is more likely to benefit positive behaviour change. With vets we will explore the value they place on correct body condition and why they do not advise farmers about the condition of their animals, despite condition being inappropriate. Objective 2 will quantify the skill of farmers and vets in condition scoring cows and their perception of ‘acceptable’ thresholds for leanness and obesity to understand how far these differ from industry guidelines. Objective 3 will quantify farmer willingness-to-pay to prevent leanness (e.g. through additional supplementary feed). Objective 4 will develop an intervention and test its effectiveness in increasing awareness, knowledge, skill and intention to adopt condition scoring.

This multidisciplinary project will be based at SRUC near Edinburgh in one of the world’s largest welfare research teams on Europe’s largest animal science research campus. Supervisors have expertise in animal welfare, human psychology, behavioural change and agricultural economics. Consultancy and veterinary colleagues will also input. The student will gain first-hand experience of interacting with farmers and vets, and skills in human behaviour change theory and methodology, animal welfare science and economic analysis. This broad skill set will maximise future employability.

Salary: Stipend for 3.5 years and tuition fees at the UK rate

Closing date: 14/01/2024

Further information can be found here.