Culling from the actors' perspectives—Decision-making criteria for culling in Québec dairy herds enrolled in a veterinary preventive medicine program

D Haine, H Delgado, R Cue, A Sewalem, K Wade, R Lacroix, D Lefebvre, J Rushton, J Arsenault, É Bouchard, J Dubuc

The series of events leading to the decision to cull a cow is complex, involving both individual-level and herd-level factors. While the decision is guided by financial returns, it is also influenced by social and psychological factors. Research studies on the motivational and behavioural aspects of farmers’ decision utility are sparse, and nonexistent regarding culling expectations and its decision process. Our goal was to identify shared criteria on culling decisions held by dairy producers and farm advisers, with the help of the Q-methodology. Forty-one dairy producers and 42 advisers (17 veterinarians, 13 feed mill advisers, and 12 dairy herd improvement (DHI) advisers) undertook a Q-sort with 40 statements that represented a range of views about cow and herd health, production performance, management issues, and material factors that might impact their culling decision-making process. The sorts were analysed by-person using factor analysis and oblimin rotation. A single view on culling could be identified among dairy producers that can be extended to dairy farm advisers, who showed two variations of the same well-structured, uni-dimensional decision-making process. Udder health, milk production performance, and milk quota management were the key criteria for the culling decision. Farm management parameters (debts, amortization, employees, milking parlour capacity, herd size) did not play any role in the decision process. Three key differences were, however, identified between producers and the two types of advisers. One group of advisers followed the recommendations from mathematical models, where pregnancy is a major determinant of a cow’s value. They assessed the cow in a more abstract way than did the other participants, still taking into account udder health and milk production, but adding economic considerations, like the availability of financial incentives and an evaluation of the post-partum health of the cow. Dairy producers were also more concerned about producing healthy and safe milk, which might reflect a different value given to dairy farming than by advisers. Very different degrees of importance were given to animal welfare by the three groups, which could represent different views on the attributed relationships between dairy farmers and their animals. Our findings suggest that dairy producers and their advisers hold a general common view regarding culling decision-making. However there are significant differences between producers and advisers, and among advisers. Understanding and managing these differences is important for assisting the change management processes required to increase farm profitability, and call for further investigation.

In Preventive Veterinary Medicine