A new understanding of unspoken cues between dairy farmers and veterinarians could boost rapport, trust, and herd outcomes

A novel framework was just published in the Journal of Dairy Science® using the first ever on-farm analysis of nonverbal communication during routine dairy herd consultations

Philadelphia, October 11, 2023 Effective communication is an essential skill for dairy veterinarians, helping them translate clinical recommendations to their farmers, strengthen the farmer-veterinary relationship, and ultimately benefit the herd. However, less is known about the role of nonverbal communication—eye contact, body orientation, gestures, and more—for veterinarians working in dairy. In a recent study in the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers provide an essential first step toward measuring and understanding unspoken communication between dairy veterinarians and their farmers, paving the way for more effective on-farm conversations and improved outcomes.  

“Human medicine and companion animal medicine studies have shown how nonverbal cues can build warmth, connection, and ultimately improve patient and client outcomes,” explained the study’s lead investigator, Fiona MacGillivray, MRCVS, of MacVet Cattle Communications Limited in Cheshire, United Kingdom, “but much less is known about them in the context of interactions on a dairy farm.”

MacGillivray and the study team analyzed video recordings of 11 routine dairy herd consultations made using GoPro cameras worn by the veterinarian, farmer, and an observer of their interactions. The recordings were then broken down and analyzed according to four different stages of the visit including the introduction, the fertility examination of the cow, discussion, and the closing.

Using this data, the study team developed a framework for coding and measuring different forms of nonverbal communication happening between veterinarian and farmer, from static attributes such as clothing worn and equipment used, to dynamic attributes such as distance, body orientation and lean, height differences, head and limb positioning, and gestures. Their study then presents results including trends observed, along with discussion on potential opportunities and barriers for unspoken communication during consultations.

“We think veterinarians can benefit from having an awareness of the impact nonverbal cues can have and use these findings immediately in their practice,” said MacGillivray, “as many aspects of nonverbal communication are likely to influence their ability to effect change on-farm.”

Caption: Researchers confirmed that nonverbal cues during routine dairy farm consultations can be measured and developed a framework to help establish the relationship between nonverbal cues and outcomes in practice (Credit: iStock.com/AnnaStills).

The team were careful to explain that this framework is just the first step in helping researchers to establish links between unspoken communication and empathy, farmer satisfaction, uptake of veterinary advice, and more. Learning more, through further research and training of practitioners and students in nonverbal communication skills, could help veterinarians to recognize and respond to farmers’ emotions, increase effectiveness of conversations, and strength the farmer-veterinarian relationship. “Becoming a skilled reader of unspoken cues can help veterinarians recognize when a farmer is unconvinced or disengaged despite saying otherwise, and help navigate concerns, improve conversations, and critically improve herd health in the long run.”

Notes for editors
The article is “Communicating without words: Measuring nonverbal communication between veterinarians and farmers during routine herd health consultations,” by Fiona MacGillivray, Alison M. Bard, Kate A. Cobb, Louise Corah, Kristen K. Reyher, Martin J. Green, and Wendela Wapenaar (https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2022-22479). It appears in the Journal of Dairy Science, volume 106, issue 8 (August 2023), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier.

The article is openly available at https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(23)00287-4/fulltext and the PDF version is available at https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(23)00287-4/pdf.

Full text of this article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jdsmedia@elsevier.com. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Fiona MacGillivray, MRCVS, of MacVet Cattle Communications at fiona@macvetltd.co.uk.

About the Journal of Dairy Science
The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2022 Journal Impact Factor of 3.5 and five-year Journal Impact Factor of 4.2 according to Journal Citation Reports™ (Source: Clarivate™ 2022). www.journalofdairyscience.org

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®)
The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world's population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.www.adsa.org

About FASS Inc.
Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified (www.bels.org) technical editors and experienced composition staff. www.fass.org

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