Munoz, C. A., Coleman, G. J., Hemsworth, P.H. et al. 2019. Positive attitudes, positive outcomes: The relationship between farmer attitudes, management behaviour and sheep welfare. PLoS ONE 14(7), e0220455.
This study examined the relationships between the attitudes and the management behaviour of the farmer and the on-farm welfare of their ewes. To our knowledge, this is the first study investigating these relationships in extensive sheep farming systems. Thirty-two sheep farmers and 6200 ewes were sampled across Victoria, Australia. Questionnaire interviews and on-farm animal welfare assessments were conducted. The ewes were assessed at two-time points, mid-pregnancy and weaning. To examine relationships between farmer and ewe variables, categorical principal component analyses, correlations and logistic regressions were used. The main findings of this study indicate relationships between farmer attitudes and management behaviour, consistent with findings from other more intensive livestock industries. Farmers were more likely to check the body condition of their ewes (Odds ratio = 2.37, P = 0.03), perform ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis (Odds ratio = 1.16, P = 0.02) and test for egg count before deworming sheep (Odds ratio = 2.88, P = 0.01) if they perceived these activities were important/valuable. In addition, farmers that performed these activities had a more active management style, and ewes in better welfare: fewer lame ewes at mid-pregnancy (r = -0.38 P = 0.04), and fewer ewes in need of further care at mid-pregnancy and weaning respectively (r = -0.47, P = 0.01; r = -0.50, P = 0.01). When combining the qualitative and quantitative analyses, behavioural attitudes (attitudes towards specific management behaviours) and perceived behavioural control (perceived barriers to performing the behaviour) emerged as the two main drivers underpinning farmer management behaviour. The results of this study indicate that the way farmers manage their ewes influences welfare outcomes, and management decisions are influenced by attitudes towards management practices. These findings demonstrate the opportunity to create change in farmer management behaviour and improve sheep welfare via targeted education programs.