Small-scale sheep and cattle enterprises in Scotland: demographics, animal health, and biosecurity

MK Henry*, Hannah Bishop, Carla Correia-Gomes, SC Tongue

*Corresponding author for this work

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Livestock keepers who operate on a small scale in the United Kingdom are often described as either smallholders or hobby farmers; however, this is not always the case. There is another distinct population in Scotland. The crofting system promotes the preservation of a way of life that is significant to the cultural heritage of Scotland, whilst at the same time utilising and maintaining marginal land that could otherwise be deemed of very low productive value. We developed two cross-sectional questionnaire surveys to gather descriptive data about individuals from two populations (crofters and smallholders) who kept sheep and/or cattle. Our aim was to explore demographics, animal health, husbandry, and biosecurity practices of these two communities, including how they may interact with other livestock sectors. Most respondents in each population kept sheep, with far fewer keeping cattle. There was a distinct geographical difference in the approximate location of respondents’ holdings. Movement of sheep was often local, temporary, and exempt from reporting to national databases. Visits from the vet were infrequent, but the vet remained an important source of animal health advice, alongside peer networks.

The information from these surveys is valuable because policy decisions taken with predominantly larger, commercial-scale enterprises in mind also frequently apply to small-scale enterprises, even though these smaller enterprises may not have the same opportunity to influence those decisions or implement the requirements. Aspects of agricultural activity and food production at the scale explored in these surveys – including plurality of employment and diversification away from purely agricultural activities – are relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of sustainable cities and communities, zero hunger and life on land. In this context, competent authorities should support this type of context-sensitive agriculture, alongside seeking to maintain animal health and welfare standards at the highest possible level on a national scale. Our surveys contribute to improved understanding of how these enterprises function and therefore will support policy makers when considering the breadth of keepers and circumstances affected by rules and regulations governing agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106236
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Early online date25 May 2024
Publication statusFirst published - 25 May 2024

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