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Launch of Co-designed Tools to support Farm Animal Surveillance, Welfare and Biosecurity

Launch of Co-designed Tools to support Farm Animal Surveillance, Welfare and Biosecurity

A range of farm animal surveillance, welfare and biosecurity tools were launched at a webinar on Wednesday, 14 September, as part of a research project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The collaborative ‘SWAB’ research project between Teagasc, University College Dublin and University of Galway, along with the involvement of the wider agricultural community, has produced practice-ready tools to raise awareness and empower farmers, farm advisors, and the general public about good farm animal surveillance, welfare and biosecurity practices. 

Raising farmer awareness of animal health surveillance and diagnostic services, and ensuring common understandings amongst farmers and farm advisors of good practices for dairy cow and dairy calf welfare is a crucial concern for the sustainability of Irish agriculture. Similarly, empowering the general public with information about what good welfare practices look like on Irish dairy farms is crucial for taking an all-society approach to improving the agricultural sustainability.

These are all issues that are addressed by the ‘SWAB’ (Surveillance, Welfare and Biosecurity of Farmed Animals) research project. This project brought together scientists, industry, farmers, farm advisors, veterinarians, and graphic designers to develop practice-ready approaches to address the issues in an evidence-based and engaging format.

Dr Conor McAloon, UCD and the Project Co-ordinator of SWAB, explained the need to ensure common understandings of animal welfare concepts and raise awareness of the services available to farmers: “Many challenges in welfare and surveillance cannot be addressed by one type of stakeholder working in isolation. A key issue is that many important messages may be interpreted differently by diverse stakeholders. The co-designed tools developed by the SWAB project are the result of valuable participatory exercises involving diverse stakeholders, highlighting common areas of concern and shared values across these important areas.”

The strength of these tools is that they were developed by a co-design process involving end users and diverse actors with a stake in the issues being addressed. As described by SWAB Principal Investigator, Dr Áine Macken-Walsh, Teagasc: “Social science evidence in relation to human behaviour, economics research, and veterinary and epidemiological research findings were channelled into the co-design process where all the relevant actors from across the sector participated in a co-design process, where they shaped the nature of how we could communicate this evidence to the public”.

One of the tools developed is an animated video that targets the issue of farmer engagement with animal health surveillance and diagnostic services. The video raises and addresses important issues from farmers’ perspectives – time-management, transport logistics, and veterinary advice – that influence farmers’ use of surveillance and biosecurity services offered by DAFM’s Regional Veterinary Laboratories (RVLs).

Professor Alison Hanlon, UCD, outlines the need that was identified for co-designed infographics for good practices for dairy calf and cow welfare: “An important message coming from workshops with farmers, advisors and vets was that there are many good practices that are already implemented on dairy farms. Having a Standard Operating Procedure, or something similar was suggested. As a result we developed two infographics on good practices for dairy calf and dairy cow welfare, based on the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council’s guidelines.”

Dr Áine Regan, Teagasc, reflected on the value of creating better understanding amongst the general public about good welfare practices on Irish dairy farms: “Our research found that while the public have generally favourable views about farm animal welfare in Ireland, they also feel uninformed about farming practices. A vacuum of information exists relating to food production and farm animal welfare. Working with veterinary and animal welfare scientists, policy-makers, communication practitioners, and graphic designers, we created an animated video for the general public to empower them with knowledge about good welfare practices on dairy farms so that they can make informed decisions”.

A recording of the webinar will be available and the tools can be freely and publicly downloaded and accessed on the Teagasc website for further distribution: www.teagasc.ie/swab