Many farmers up and down the country enjoy attending meetings held by vets and other organisations, but as lockdown put a stop to social gatherings how do farmers want to proceed into the new normal? Hannah Noble reports.
According to a recent survey, farmers are in general keen to explore options available for online meetings.
The survey, which was carried out by Boehringer Ingelheim, was looking at how farmers want to adapt how they work with their vet during lockdown and onwards.
Just under 400 farmers across every sector took part. Twenty five per cent were beef and sheep farmers, 23 per cent dairy farmers and the remainder split between beef suckler herds, beef finishers and calf rearers.
According to the FarmComm survey, 93 per cent said they liked to attend vet-led meeting in pre-Covid-19 times.
However as a replacement for these face-to-face meetings, 46 per cent of farmers said they were keen to explore the opportunities of online meetings using platforms such as WhatsApp.
Thirty-eight per cent of those surveyed said they were also in favour of larger group meetings held via Zoom.
Facebook came out as the most popular choice for social media, followed by YouTube and Twitter, and one in five farmers said they wanted more information from their vets through social media platforms.
A similar proportion also indicated they would be interested in communication through webinars and podcasts.
ONE of those vet practices which has taken the plunge into the world of online meetings to reconnect with their clients is Daleside Vets, Wrexham, and vet Guy Tomlinson says he sees a future for this kind of communication post Covid-19.
He says: “We have a few discussion groups within our vet practice already and as part of those groups we have regular meetings and workshops and did not want to lose that momentum during lockdown.”
Mr Tomlinson has hosted a series of meetings over Zoom during the pandemic but hopes to bring in outside speakers over the next few months.
“They would usually have been face-to-face meetings and we would have discussed and presented on a topic, and we wanted to keep the interest there and contact with our clients through lockdown,” he says.
In terms of demographics, he says it is perhaps the young farmers who have found these meetings most beneficial.
“A lot of them have young families and if they are busy working all day it has maybe been a bit easier for them to sit down at home than to get showered, changed and head out of the door,” he says.
He adds that while the technology involved in these type of meetings may put some people off, on the whole most find the format easier than going to face-to-face meetings.
Mr Tomlinson’s farmer meetings usually consist of a vet from the practice or an outside speaker depending on the topic.
He says by hosting the discussion group online it gives them a chance to secure presentations with a wider range of speakers with varied expertise, including those from abroad as well as further afield within the UK.
He hopes to run a call with a speaker from Australia in the next few months.
However, he says it is not quite the same as meeting in person from the social interaction perspective and, of course, it does not include a free meal, which often accompanies an evening meeting for example.
Mr Tomlinson says interaction through questioning has remained relatively consistent, but admits it is easier when hosting a smaller group of participants than a larger one.
“It is a bit different from my side as the speaker too,” he says.
“All I can see is my presentation on the screen or possibly small icons with people’s faces on, but it does not feel the same. It is a bit disconcerting to start with. When you are talking to a computer screen you do not get the same sort of feedback.
“As a practice I think we will carry on doing some meetings in this format post-lockdown.
“It will not be all meetings, but I think there is potential scope there to have mixed meetings depending on the topic and the group of clients.”
Mr Tomlinson says the farm side of the practice has remained relatively unchanged during lockdown, but video calls have been used for straightforward cases and to triage clients in the small animal clinic, and it seems to have worked well.
He also adds video calls have been a lifeline for vets within the practice to communicate with each other and other practices within the group, sharing information and moral support during the pandemic.
ASIDE from restrictions to farmer meetings in the wake of Covid-19, change has been seen in the way vets work with their clients on a day-to-day basis too in recent years.
Mike Denholm, of Clyde Vet Group, says as more focus has been put on transparency in the supply chain and traceability of food, the role of the vet has evolved from solely offering an emergency service to working as part of the farm team.
He says: “Vets are now playing a role in helping farmers achieve compliance regulations and best practise to get the best health and welfare results for their animals and in turn ensure consumer confidence in their products.”
There is a broad range in performance between farms and Dr Denholm says there are farmers at the forefront who are ahead of their game, looking for the best advice and research available and those at the other end of the spectrum.
He says supermarkets have introduced standards to ensure all farmers raise their performance to match those at the top end.
Dr Denholm says another change seen by vets over recent years is the growth of farm size which has also caused a shift in their dynamics.
He says now the demographics of farms vary significantly, from large farms with staff in specific roles to smaller owner-operator farms with no additional labour.
Most of the routine vet visits are still with dairy farmers says Dr Denholm, and beef and sheep are a little further behind, but he says this does not mean they will not follow suit.
“Quality Meat Scotland, for example, has now made it mandatory that farms must have an up to date health plan signed off by their vet, whereas previously the health plan was recommended and perhaps seen as a box-ticking exercise,” he says.
Recent years have also seen growing demand and interest in vet tech services, which offer the outsourcing of routine tasks such as disbudding, vaccination, mobility scoring and foot trimming. Jobs which Dr Denholm says farmers may not have time to carry out with the existing staff resources on their farm, but see the value and importance of doing so.
He says vet tech visits can also pave the way for improved data capture of farm performance which in turn may be used as a tool by vets when diagnosing problems on farm.
With the capture of data seen as being increasingly important for vets, Dr Denholm says his practice is now using integrated software which has the ability to collate information from the milk recording company, cattle tracing programmes and veterinary software combined with a cow-side app to capture data on farm.
“This means we have all the treatment, ear tags and medicine usage records all in one place, so when we go to help farmers we are able to access data such as cows with high cell counts or cows which have tested positive for a specific disease for example,” he says.
“It also allows us to benchmark farms against other similar farms.
“This significantly improves our ability to help our farmers understand areas of improvement required to not just meet regulatory requirements but also achieve profitability.”