Maurer, Lorenz, Josef Schenkenfelder, & Christoph Winckler (2021, January). Resource, collaborator, or individual cow? Applying Q methodology to investigate Austrian farmers’ viewpoints on motivational aspects of improving animal welfare. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7, art. 607925. (doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.607925) (Link: https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.607925) (Open Access: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.607925/full)

Abstract: One keystone to successful welfare improvement endeavors is a respected cooperation between farmer and advisor (e.g., veterinarian), which requires a thorough understanding of what motivates farmer behavior. In this respect, Q methodology offers a promising approach in investigating individual motivational patterns and to discriminate between and describe typologies of farmers. In our study we explored, based on a sample of 34 Austrian dairy farmers, how 39 potentially motivating statements regarding the improvement of dairy cow health and welfare were assessed. We were able to identify and describe four different viewpoints, explaining 47% of total study variance. All four viewpoints have in common that pride in a healthy herd is motivating to work toward improved animal health and welfare to a certain extent, but meeting legal requirements is rather not. Viewpoint 1 acknowledges welfare for economic performance, ease of work and short working hours but does not make allowance for outside interference. Participants loading on Viewpoint 2 also show a focus on economic aspects but, keep close track of the animal welfare debate recognizing its potential to improve the public image of dairy farming. Even though they cautiously criticize an exploitative application of dairy farming, they do not want to be understood as role models. With regards to animal welfare, farmers sharing Viewpoint 3 perceive themselves as superior to and show little reluctance of comparison with mainstream farming. For them, the animal as sentient being itself owns some intrinsic value and it is necessary to strike a balance between economic and other, ethical considerations. Viewpoint 4 perceives cows as equal collaborators who deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation and is willing to accept certain economic losses in order to maintain high standards regarding animal health and welfare. Using Q methodology, we have been able to draw high resolution images of different farmer typologies, enabling advisors to tailor intervention strategies specifically addressing leverage points with a high chance of farmer compliance.

Josef Schenkenfelder <josef.schenkenfelder@boku.ac.at> is in the Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Division of Livestock Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria.

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