Animal health management practices among smallholder livestock producers in Australia and their contribution to the surveillance system.
The risks posed for disease introduction and spread are believed to be higher for smallholder livestock producers than commercial producers. Possible reasons for this is the notion that smallholders do not implement appropriate animal health management practices and are not part of traditional livestock communication networks. These factors contribute to the effectiveness of passive disease surveillance systems. A cross-sectional study, using a postal survey (n=1,140) and group interviews (28 participants in three groups), was conducted to understand the animal health management and communication practices of smallholders keeping sheep, cattle, pigs, dairy goats and alpacas in Australia. These practices are crucial for an effective passive surveillance system. Findings indicate that there is a need for improvement in animal health management practices, such as contact with veterinarians and attitudes toward reporting. Results also indicate that these practices differ depending on the livestock species kept, with sheep ownership being associated with lower engagement with surveillance activities and smallholders keeping dairy goats and alpacas having in general better practices. Other factors associated with surveillance practices among participant smallholders are gender and years of experience raising livestock. Despite the differences observed, over 80% of all smallholders actively seek information on the health of their livestock, with private veterinarians considered to be a trusted source. Emergency animal diseases are not a priority among smallholders, however they are concerned about the health of their animals. The finding that veterinarians were identified by producers to be the first point of contact in the event of unusual signs of disease, strengthens the argument that private veterinarians play a vital role in improving passive surveillance. Other producers are also a point of contact for animal health advice, with government agencies less likely to be contacted. The effectiveness of on-farm passive surveillance could be enhanced by developing strategies involving both private veterinarians and producers as key stakeholders, which aim to improve awareness of disease and disease reporting responsibilities.