The problem

Livestock disease is a complex problem threatening the development of more sustainable, ethical and efficient farming methods.

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.

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.

Our approach

Our study begins in 1947, when a new Agriculture Act set the post-war farming agenda. It continues up to the present day and makes predictions about the future. 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.

We have selected two diseases to use as case studies that capture different aspects and impacts of endemic disease: lameness, and bovine viral diarrhoea (See Frequently Asked Questions for more information on these diseases).

Our methods

Traditionally, research into livestock disease has taken place within single academic disciplines. however, many of farming’s current challenges cut across disciplines and call for a more integrated approach. FIELD uses methods from science, social science and the humanities to develop interdisciplinary understandings of the biological, social and historical aspects of disease. Farmers, advisers, policy makers and the wider public are involved in the research process.

We ask how approaches to livestock disease in the past have informed the way they are managed today. How can the study of disease in the present improve understandings of its past impacts? And how can this knowledge be used to develop better predictions and ways of combating disease in the future?

Our aims

  • To interrogate the causes and impacts of endemic livestock disease over time.
  • To understand what endemic diseases mean to different stakeholders.
  • To build computer models to simulate the impact of different scenarios on the future spread of endemic disease.
  • To better understand farmer and consumer perspectives about livestock disease and its relationship to animal welfare.
  • To identify interventions that could potentially enhance livestock health, farming resilience, and consumer trust in the industry.

Find out more about our approaches, methodology or meet the team. Visit our focus pages to see how FIELD relates to farming, policy and consumer interests.