Cows in a barn
Ongoing Project

FIELD: Farm-level Interdisciplinary approaches to Endemic Livestock Disease

Research into the past, present and future of endemic livestock diseases, and how they can be addressed through combining social scientific, scientific and historical perspectives

Project summary

The Challenge

Research into the past, present and future of endemic livestock diseases, addressed from scientific, social scientific and historical perspectives

The Approach

To research how livestock disease is influenced by nature and culture, science and society, and the actions of humans and livestock.

The Outcome

Analysis of past and current endemic disease situations could lead to improved farming practices and future disease reductions.

Lead researchers

Funded by

Project partners

The Challenge

Endemic livestock diseases cause significant costs to agriculture and pose serious welfare problems for farmed animals.

Most publicity about livestock disease focuses on those that pose a danger to human health. However, there are many other important diseases that only affect animals. These include endemic diseases, which exist permanently in livestock populations, usually at low levels, and across all production systems. The FIELD project focuses on these diseases.

Sheep field, north of England - Photo by Niamh Mahon

Many of the tools to tackle endemic diseases already exist, and yet they remain a problem. This project aims to explain why, and to work out what could be done about them.

The Approach

Research into the past, present and future of endemic livestock diseases, and how they can be addressed through combining social scientific, scientific and historical perspectives.

Our researchers Professor Lewis Holloway and Dr Niamh Mahon are members of the project’s interdisciplinary team of social scientists, historians, economists and epidemiologists. Members also include researchers from the University of Lincoln, Newcastle University, University of Glasgow, University of Edinburgh and Leeds Trinity University.

The FIELD team looks specifically at endemic diseases: defined as those which are continually present in particular regions or populations. We focus on two common examples in Britain: Bovine Viral Diarrhoea in cows; and lameness in sheep and cattle. These diseases cannot be caught by people, but do affect animal welfare and farm productivity.

Our research explores the impacts of these diseases on animal health, welfare and production. We explore the past and present situation, hoping to contribute to future reductions in disease.

It explores the influence of biological, social, cultural, economic, environmental and regulatory factors on endemic livestock disease within four different farming systems:

  • Indoor dairy systems (where cows are kept indoors all year around).
  • ‘Grazed’ dairy systems (where cows are grazing outside for the non-winter months).
  • Lowland beef and sheep farming.
  • Upland beef and sheep farming.
Cow shed, dairy farm - Photo by Niamh Mahon

We are working closely with a steering committee and group of collaborators to conduct research that might impact policy and practice in this area. Our social science research involves in-depth research with farmers, vets and other professionals working with cattle and sheep to understand current practices relating to endemic diseases, why such diseases persist, and how they can be addressed more effectively in the future

The Impact

This research is learning from how responses to endemic livestock disease have changed over time and how they impact livestock and farm businesses now. It will investigate if they can be better managed in the future, and if so, how? In doing this, the research might impact on reduced levels of endemic disease in the future.