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Farm biosecurity attitudes and practices: Factors influencing the sheep industry

Project start date: 01 February 2011
Project end date: 10 October 2011
Publication date: 28 November 2011
Project status: Terminated
Livestock species: Sheep
Relevant regions: National
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These two nationally representative surveys comprise the first phase of a research project funded by MLA to investigate factors influencing farm biosecurity attitudes and practices in the sheep industry. The aim of the sheep producer survey was to explore current attitudes and practices towards sheep health management with a focus on producer biosecurity practices and use of the Sheep Health Statement (SHS) as the principal tool available nationally to support and protect producers from disease risks during the sales process.

The agent survey was undertaken to investigate agents attitudes and practices regarding the SHS and to investigate their relationship with producers and assess the degree of influence they may have on their animal health practices.

The objectives of the first phase research were:

  • To determine the uptake and use of the National Sheep Health Statement as an on-farm biosecurity tool for managing the risk of disease and pest introduction.
  • To identify any regional variation in responses and reasons for the variation to the responses.
  • To identify any possible drivers to assist the use of the Sheep Health Statement, and similarly, to identify any social or practical barriers to its uptake that may be amenable to change or influence.
  • To collect data considered representative of the sheep producer and livestock agent populations and to assemble a dataset of sufficient size to perform robust and reliable statistical analyses.

Ethics approval for this research was obtained from the University of Western Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC approval reference H8882). Methodology Two questionnaires were developed and the survey interviews were conducted using a computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) methodology in which the interviewer follows a script using a software application that is able to customise the interview based on the answers provided.

The producer questionnaire comprised 53 questions, and covered a range of issues, including details of buying/selling in the last two years (for purposes other than to slaughter), use of the SHS and perceived drivers and barriers to its use. A sampling frame was developed in consultation with industry experts to capture data from a nationally representative sample of sheep producers with 100+ sheep. A total of 870 interviews were conducted with producers identified as the main person responsible for animal health management decisions, from 1-18 March 2011.

The survey response rate was 33%. The agent survey comprised 35 questions, and covered a range of issues, such as details of operating environments, relationship with clients, perceived influence on clients with regard to sheep health management and use of the SHS, and perceived barriers and drivers to use of the SHS. An agent population was obtained from member agency contact details openly available on the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association (ALPA) website.

A total of 300 interviews were conducted with agents from 1-10 March 2011. The survey response rate was 44%. The sample sizes and response rates for the two surveys were good and provide confidence that data are representative of producer and agent populations.

Both samples were drawn from established and comprehensive databases and the use of CATI methodology and experienced interviewers provides additional strength; with standardised procedures for data collection and coding and high levels of interview completion. In addition the surveys were structured to optimise the methodology and questions were time-bounded and related to recent experience and current practice to reduce recall bias and improve data accuracy.


Descriptive analysis was conducted, for the whole sample and for the sample cross-tabulated by State and by Ovine Johne's Disease (OJD) prevalence area. In addition multivariate logistic regression analysis was conducted with both producer and agent data to investigate factors associated with uptake of the SHS. Some key findings from the producer survey are listed below:

  • More than half of producers operated closed flocks, in which no sheep are introduced, or partially-closed flocks, in which only rams are introduced.
  • Two-thirds of producers buy from a single trusted vendor or small group of trusted vendors.
  • The SHS, NVD, and agents were identified as the main ways to assure others of the health of sheep.
  • Over half of producers used agents for ALL their purchasing, and around a quarter used agents for NONE of their purchasing.
  • Three-quarters of producers used agents for ALL their selling, less than 4% used agents for NONE of their selling.
  • Around a quarter of producers had never heard of the SHS and 17% had heard of it but were not aware of any of its content, i.e. around 40% were ignorant of it.
  • Use of the SHS was typically all or none with, very roughly, half of producers using it all the time and half using it none of the time.
  • The SHS was regarded favourably with 70% of producers who were aware of it reporting that it was an effective tool for disease management.
  • Agents were regarded as influential in the use of the SHS, with most producers reporting they were willing to supply or request a SHS if their agent told them to.
  • Stronger enforcement and education/awareness programs were identified most frequently as ways to encourage uptake of the SHS.
  • Current on-farm management practices appeared to be high, especially for inspection, disease monitoring, and movement recording. Some hygiene/cleanliness practices were less widely employed.
  • Correct knowledge of current OJD prevalence area was poor with accuracy ranging from 17% to 63%, and producers were highly confident that they were correct.

Key agent survey findings are listed below:

  • As found in the producer survey, use of the SHS was generallyall or nothing with similar proportions of agents (40-50%) using the SHS ALL the time or NONE of the time.
  • Agents had strong established and trusted relationships with producers and they believed they have a high degree of influence on producers. These findings were mirrored in the producer survey.
  • Over half of the agents believed that the majority of their clients (>75%) relied solely on their judgment to purchase disease-free sheep.
  • Agents advise producers on a range of issues, but mostly around correct completion of paperwork; the NVD and SHS.
  • Around half of agents conduct more than half their sheep work in locations where the SHS is not mandatory.
  • In relation to selling, agents identified the main drivers for uptake of the SHS as it being mandatory, achieving better prices, and increased buyer interest.
  • In relation to purchasing, agents identified the main drivers for uptake of the SHS as providing protection from buying diseased sheep, providing useful information, and assurance.
  • Main barriers to use of the SHS were reported as being a lack of mandatory requirement, apathy, ignorance/lack of awareness of the SHS, and lack of perceived benefits of its use.
  • Agents were generally positive about the SHS; considering it effective, useful and necessary.
  • At least half of agents reported that they encouraged producers to supply a SHS when selling and to request a SHS when purchasing
  • Agents acknowledged their influence on producer uptake of the SHS and were able to identify ways to improve its uptake; however, some felt that this shouldnot be their responsibility.

Analysis of the data indicated many differences between producers from different States and OJD prevalence areas. Statistical modelling identified the main factors associated with uptake of the SHS.

More information

Project manager: Johann Schroder
Primary researcher: Western Sydney University