Facilitation and farmer-led approaches to changing practices

Changing people’s behaviour and practices on farm is challenging. Historically, this has been largely achieved through top-down approaches, such as legislation, regulation and penalties. Advisor-led programmes are also topdown in nature as they transfer knowledge in a one-way manner from position of expert to ‘lay’ person. There is often little consideration and inclusion of the farmers views and ideas. Top-down approaches have been shown to lack the impact needed to transform farming practices in response to increasing environmental, social and economic challenges facing the industry. 

Bottom-up ways of working that adopt a more farmer-led approach are a potential solution. Facilitating these farmer-led approaches is a skill many advisors are not familiar or trained in. A recent UK study explored how such an approach helped change practices around antimicrobial use on UK dairy farms. 5 facilitated farmer action groups were established and followed over 2.5 years and assessed to see what impact they had. Facilitators helped mobilise the knowledge in the groups and identified knowledge gaps farmers needed help with. They fostered a sense of solidarity between participants that improved confidence and capabilities to make changes to practices. There was a shift away from critically important antibiotics (the majority reduced use after one yearand each farm co-created an Action Plan of practical steps to reduce reliance on antibiotics with a holistic focus on the whole farm system.

Every farm participant changed at least one thing within a year, with >80% implementing over a third of their Action Plan within 12months. The facilitators were a pivotal part of the approach and a key recommendation is to train vets in facilitation.  

WEBINAR: International DISARM workshop

On the 3rd of December 2019, DISARM organised an international workshop at Copa-Cogeca, Brussels.

This workshop was all about DISARM: what is project DISARM? What do the Farm Animal Health Teams mean, and how do you become a member of the Community of Practice?
The workshop ended with a lively panel discussion.

Farm Factsheets

Here you can find some short introductions to the farms involved in our farm health teams. We share a brief summary of the farm, the main health challenges they aim to work on, outcomes of the intitial Biocheck® assessment and the goals for their Farm Health Action Plan.

Grard van Gerwe, Pig Farm, The Netherlands

Stefaan Stuer, Broiler Farm East-Flanders (EN)

Stefaan Stuer, Broiler Farm East-Flanders (NL)

Koronas Bros, Sheep Farm, Greece

Kalogeropoulos Bros, Sheep Farm, Greece

Flessas Bros, Sheep Farm, Greece

WEBINAR: Optimising animal health in pig farming (in Dutch)

On Monday 7th September, ZLTO organised a webinar on the coaching process as part of the project Optimising Animal Health in Pig Farming.

Antoon Sanders talked about the project he is coaching with pig farmers, feed consultants and veterinarians. He also shared practical experiences.

Are you interested in being coached in the autumn of 2020 in The Netherlands? Then contact Heleen Prinsen or Annick Spaans from ZLTO.

Find out more here

WEBINAR: Facilitating change with small groups

Want to know more about facilitation?


Lisa Morgans, from Innovation for Agriculture in the UK, hosts an interactive webinar about facilitating change with small groups. She covers:

  1. The need for facilitation
  2. What makes a good facilitator
  3. Understanding your group
  4. Planning and delivering successful workshops
  5. The facilitation toolbox and communication strategies

The webinar concludes with a Q&A session. If you would like more information about facilitation, please get in touch.

EPRUMA best-practice guidelines for the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals

Several guidance documents relating to the prudent use of antimicrobials have been published by different public, professional and industry bodies. This resulted in better understanding/improved practices by veterinarians and animal owners/keepers. Much of the guidance is also readily accessible in different EU languages.

One of the bodies producing these guidance documents at EU level is EPRUMA, a European multi-stakeholder platform which has already released two best-practice guidelines (brochures) for the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. You may find them on their website: www.epruma.eu

The brochures explain the role and benefits of antibiotics in animal health and the description of best-practices for their use. They also give guidance on indoor and free-range production, housing, biosecurity, nutrition, etc. and include a decision tree on the use of veterinary antibiotics in food-producing animals. The guidance should be, of course, further tailored to the local situation of an individual farm. The final implementation should be shared responsibility between the farmer and other professional visitors to the farm such as veterinarians, feed and husbandry experts, and biosecurity specialists.

Efforts made by farmers and these professional consultants, supported by all other stakeholders, will result in an optimal level of animal health and welfare. Consequently, this facilitates and drives the responsible use of veterinary medicines, according to the principle ‘as little as possible and as much as necessary’.

DISARM Model for Multi Actor Farm Health Planning

One of DISARM’s key objectives is to promote structural animal health improvement on farms through establishing farm health teams consisting of a farmer, his herd veterinarian, and his feed – or other – advisor.

In this report you can learn about the different steps and methods we will apply during our case-studies where a farm team works together to develop a farm health plan.

DISARM Model for Multi Actor Farm Health Planning

Principles of Biosecurity and Biocheck.UGent

We thank Professor Jeroen Dewulf from Ghent University for sharing his expertise.
Here you can find out more about transmission routes, infection pressures and use of the BioCheck tool as a risk-based biosecurity scoring system for individual farms.

Principles of Biosecurity and use of BioCheck website: webinar by Jeroen Dewulf

Instructive training on biosecurity and application of Biocheck: a risk-based scoring tool for biosecurity on livestock farms

On 22 and 23 of January 2020, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Ghent University hosted a very instructive and interesting training on biosecurity and the use of their Biocheck, a tool to score and benchmark the biosecurity measures on livestock farms. The training nicely balanced theoretical insights with hands-on practical training and field visits to a farrowing and broiler farm to exercise the use of the Biocheck.

Five principles to biosecurity

Prof. Jeroen Dewulf, head of the chair on epidemiology started the training with a lecture on the five main principles of biosecurity and practical examples to illustrate and respect these principles in order to prevent disease from entering the farm and spread within it. The principles being:

  1. Preventing direct and indirect contact between potentially infectious and susceptible animals
  2. Not every route of transmission is equally important, so not every biosecurity measure is equally effective
  3. Lower the general infection pressure on the farm to lower the burden on the immune system of the animals
  4. Size matters meaning that although biosecurity is important on every farm, on larger farms the risk and negative consequences of disease outbreaks will be much larger and harder to contain than on smaller farms.
  5. Frequency matters: the frequency of events or actions happening on the farm determine the risks. An event or action (e.g. feed truck delivering feed) with a low probability of infecting the farm per visit can pose a substantial risk for the farm when it reoccurs frequently.

Next, prof. Dewulf explained these principles and suitable external and internal biosecurity measures in more detail with practical examples for pig production.

Scoring and benchmarking biosecurity with Biocheck

The final theoretical part of the first day was focused on the UGhent’s Biocheck. This innovative risk-based scoring system can elevate the European livestock sectors’ biosecurity status since it is the first system to quantitatively score and benchmark the biosecurity of farms in pig, poultry, dairy, beef and veal production. The checklist evaluates the farm’s biosecurity measures and takes into account the relative risks of different infection transmission routes resulting in an overall biosecurity score out of a 100 for the farm as well as detailed scores for external and internal biosecurity separately. The highest detail of scoring offers farmers and vets immediate insight into measures to improve within both the domains of external and internal biosecurity.

In the afternoon, the theory on biosecurity in general and the use of the Biocheck was nicely illustrated with a visit to a farrowing farm of a thousand sows and being a text book example of managing biosecurity in pig production. Here participants got the chance to exercise in evaluating a farms’ biosecurity status by use of the Biocheck.

Day 2: Focus on poultry production

The second day of training was focused on biosecurity in poultry and especially broiler production. D r Nele Caekebeke focused first on specific biosecurity aspects in poultry production, after which the participants had to exercise in designing and improving biosecurity measures on specific broiler farms.

The poultry training was finalized with another field visit to an integrated broiler farm where the participants could practice the Biocheck scoring in broiler production.

Get in touch to find out more about biosecurity training

If you are interested in the Biocheck scoring system, or would like to participate in or organise similar training in scoring and improving biosecurity measures, please get in touch with Prof. Jeroen Dewulf.