Case study: How do we get farmers to change things?

Case study: How do we get farmers to change things?

One of our trainers from UK had a real good question: How do I get farmers to change things? He gives us three scenarios that happen most frequently:

1. Changing the feed neck rail
"I see neck rubs throughout the herd. Responses from farmers include: 'they are no different to anyone else’s' and 'the hair grows back quickly in summer anyway' "

2. Taking out 2 lots of head to head cubicle spaces to create a cross over
"Responses from farmers mainly are that they do not see the financial gain to do this, to make the initial cost changes and then also to be able to have less cows in that shed."

3. Cleaning water troughs
"This one blows my mind! Cleaning water troughs. They won’t do it!"

Who can gives some advise on one or more of these scenarios?
What do you do to get farmers to change? What would motivate you to change?

Check our follow-up blog 'This is how we get farmers to change' for a mix of your suggestions and some suggestions of our own.

Comments (18)

Owen Atkinson

Hmm! I share the frustration on this quandary entirely.

Sometimes perhaps as advisers we want too much too soon, yet increasingly I also recognise that a lot of farmers are changing a lot of things all the time for the better. I guess they do it their way and at their pace - and Richard, that will be in no small part down to you and your work!

There are lots of models of change and one of my current favourites is Azjen's Theory of Planned Behaviour. Basically, for someone to do something (make the change), they need 3 beliefs:
a) Attitudinal belief. Believe that the status quo is harmful e.g. "dirty water troughs reduces water intake in my cows which reduces DMI = I get less milk";
b) Subjective norm belief. Believe that the status quo is worse than it should be (compared with their perceived "normal") - e.g.: "it isn't normal to have cows with lumpy necks: my neighbour who has a really nice herd of cows and makes lots of money doesn't have them in his herd";
c) Perceived behavioural control belief. Believe that they are in control of their own behaviour e.g.: "I know I am the only person in the world who can change my problem of cows slipping over in the cubicle house and that is by getting rid of the dead-end by making an extra cross-over, grooving the floor, and putting a few less cows in the shed".

So what is our role as the adviser, or coach?
a) Sell the story; change attitude to status quo: "Why do you think dirty water troughs matter?"
b) Change the subjective norm (challenge "owneritis"): "What do you see on the cows' necks? What do you notice about your cows compared to your top-performing neighbour?"
c) Build self-belief in our farm clients (working to increase their perceived behavioural control): "How confident do you feel that you can change this?"

Very good question. I'm looking forwards to the answers because I need them too!

Jack Rodenburg

Where changes are easy to make in a small section of the barn, challenge them to do their own research. Move the neck rail on one piece of manger and see if feed is cleaned up there first, and if there are more cows eating there. Clean one of the two water troughs in a pen and then see where cows go to drink. Once you get them to buy in on some of these simple things and they see results, then credibility goes up to make other changes. On the neck rail location issue I would be a little critical of any advice about neck rail location that does not include more frequent push up of the feed......if feed is pushed up often the location of the neck rail doesn't really matter that much.

Mian Tariq

The consultants job all over the world is very easy because its simply suggestion without sharing responsibility and more importantly the financial implications. Overall Agri based or in particular, the dairy farming sector has a pace to perceive followed by the implementation which is far more crucial cant be compared with other industries. I think the consultants suggestions could be carry more important weight and adaptability if implemented on some pilot projects sponsored by association or Govt funded because farmer do not have the capacity to experiment. It matters cost to them so the consultants should suggest with assurance and the farmers will quickly adapt and change.

Lynette Lewis

They need to easily see the benefits especially any cost benefits. What I find works quite well with clients is to start a discussion and gradually introduce alternatives while also encouraging them to come up with their own ideas. Another technique I use is to ask the client to close their eyes and imagine they are the animal we are dealing with describing their day but most important their feelings about a particular situation. This is an excellent way of promoting a better understanding of the situation. However I'm not sure that it is suitable for this particular situation. The most important thing is not to make them feel that you think what they are doing is wrong or they will close off to you immediately.

Jeanette Fisher, HEIFERMAX

This is a really interesting question. I think Owen's answer is excellent, as it has broad application, rather than being an incident specific answer.
A few weeks ago I had a meeting about calf management with a group of local leaders in the dairy industry. On one side of the table a farmer was complaining that industry educational organisations find it very hard to convince farmers that change is necessary while on the other side of the table another fellow was telling us proudly that he still stuck to a practice that was proven in the 1970's to be detrimental to calf health and growth. I don't think that the irony of the situation dawned on either of them.
The fact is that to get farmers to change calf and heifer management is even more difficult than getting them to change cow management because there is often a 2 year lag between change and benefit.
I will follow with interest the replies to this question.

Pascal Bouilly

Very good topic!!! and good feedback as well.
I would suggest the implementation of a Cleaning Protocol for the water bowls, where actions are taken to clean and maintain the equipment as well as documenting their actions.
A few bacterial analysis of the water before and after the procedures should help to demonstrate the benefice of such actions. Encouraging farmers to document all their actions should be promoted, as a way for them to show that they are doing the right things.

carsten hansen

Remember when you come with proposals it is better to get counterparty to think so how do we solve a problem you may well have the answer, but it is easier to implement if it comes from the other party ie . When I'm looking for my employees both on my own farm in Denmark with 4 employees as well as the advice of the Ukrainian farm with 100ansatte .
in Denmark , I typically by washing troughs make a goal how would you feel if you are ko = quality feed water consumed in a clean cup . principle in ukrtaine is the same one can give orders and keeps one month elller when you are there if you give a good explanation or even suggest to wash troughs 2 time in the week it is their idea = success this applies to all of nieuve management and first skalman pick the bottom fruits which pay and created a positive tren d and then go on good luck

hassan khan

yes its interesting topic and i would show him /her the benefits of the changes which i suggest by making a trail with him/her. once the difference is realized then he/she would definitely bring the changes proposed. I have done it several times in the field with the subsistence and small scale dairy farmers in Malkand division Pakistan.though difficult but not impossible.

Carsten Houmann

Very good questions. I agre the comments from Owen and Jack.
What will I do?
I will ask my self the question. Do, you do the things right - And do you the rigth things?
A very good strategi is.
1. Listening to the farmer, summerarize and then deepquestioning.
2. Listen again - ask, confrontate, inform, show the farme you have knowledge and then give advice.
3. Tell the farmer, - I see, - I think, - I would like to change.
Remember, that bodylanguage is more than 50 % of the communication.
Tone and voice is up to 40% of the communication
Words is not so important - under 10 %

Guro Sveberg

Inspiration of how to meet the farmer;
Abraham Lincoln; “When I’m getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say, and two-thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.”
Søren Kierkegaard;
If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There.

This is the secret in the entire art of helping.

Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he–but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.

If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.

But all true helping begins with a humbling.

The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands..

Susanne Pejstrup

It´s not fun to be told what to do. You must want to improve to get the motivation to make changes. When farmers meet in groups and see high performance and discuss with colleagues they often get inspired to do thing better themselves. I agree with Carsten Houmann that listening is a door-opener!


I agree with the comments already made. You have to figure out what the client's priorities are and help him change what he thinks needs changing.

Also, you have to consider that his reluctance to change may be rational. He may not want to give up milking two cows (by converting cubicles to a crossover) for the uncertain payoff of a possible increase in production that may or may not occur. Remember the time value of money. A dollar in the future is worth less than a dollar today. He will have the expense tomorrow, have to milk two fewer cows, and is not sure he will get the reward.

I have also wondered why people don't clean water troughs. On the other hand, I have never heard a dairyman say that his bulk tank milk went up after he cleaned them. Frankly, I am not sure that the cows care; they will drink manure water from a puddle when there is clean water nearby. I am not defending dirty waterers, but it may be more of an aesthetic issue than an economic one.

You have to remember that we consultants are animal oriented. While the animals produce all of the profit on a farm, a farmer has a lot of other things to worry about. Unpaid bills, broken feed wagon, an overflowing manure lagoon, a warm bulk tank are all much higher priorities than a sick cow. Running a farm is as much about managing equipment and facilities, and moving large amounts of material efficiently, as it is about cow care. In fact, with good people in place, the cows kind of take care of themselves and the owner can focus on other issues.

Neil Rowe

Change of any kind is always difficult for most people.
In my experience farmers respond best to change which is market lead, either a price premium for achieving a standard or even better linking a farmer to a known brand, the positive affect of pride should not be underestimated. Having recently worked on two premium pool projects it is great to see farmers mentoring, encouraging each other and innovating to solve a common problem. It is a more difficult challenge to implement change merely to access a bulk commodity market.
As for the offending water trough, maybe fill a glass from the trough and offer the farmer a drink

Valerie Jonckheer-Sheehy

The answer is in education. Show them examples of where the necessary changes have been made and ideally profits have been raised. Although we think that simply improving welfare should be enough it's not and farmers also need to see that any changes they make will also be cost-effective.

Anne Dodera

Normally there is a group of farmers: they will not change (for many different reasons.)
Onother group WILL change: with them we shoud work !
NO recepy for the change !
You will have to detect THE FARMER open mind. That is ower job !!
The explanation will NOT work for every body !
If that so : the earth would be an exelent place and that is not so.

The question does NOT have one answer.
We shoud work with the farmers, do owr best: drop the net into the ocean and see what do we get.
It does not exist such a thing , like a recepie about convencing the farmers or anybody to do changes !!!

just wach the presidents around the wold !!!


It is difficult to carve rotten wood

Joep Driessen

Thanks everyone for your great responses! A few days ago we posted a follow-up blog, in which we summarize most reponses. You can find it here:

Ivan Perov

Perhaps to revert this question - how to explain the farmer WHY to change things? I am OK, says the farmer. And here I believe that the best way to introduce changes is to bring farmers together to talk things through. Than, when they share something, when they have a chance to talk with each other, when they hear someone does better at the same cost - than perhaps, may be or probably :) something will get changed. Changes has to be desired. It has to be realised, that it become more and more difficult to operate this way, and therefore there is a need to change.. But still, WHY? to change things... this suddenly become very individual, from the change driving force stand point... Ivan.

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