Paratuberculosis is a common disease in ruminants, causing economic losses in livestock farming, and a relationship between the exposure to its causative agent Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis, and Crohn’s disease in humans is discussed. Despite this, only a minority of cattle farmers have enroled in voluntary control programmes in most countries. Therefore, this study aimed at investigating the farmer’s opinion on paratuberculosis and their motivations to participate in a control programme. The objective was to identify different groups among farmers regarding their motivation and thereby contribute to a better understanding of farmers’ attitudes towards paratuberculosis control.
Two hundred twenty-five farmers responded to questionnaires that were distributed among cattle farmers in Saxony and Thuringia, federal states of Germany, together with boot-swab sampling sets for a free and anonymous herd-level paratuberculosis test. Among them, dairy herds and large herds were overrepresented. A hierarchical cluster analysis of the farmers’ answers resulted in four groups that we tagged as ‘informed sceptics’, ‘deniers’, ‘affected supporters’ and ‘free supporters’. In all groups, the majority considered paratuberculosis a threat to the public image of cattle farmers. Nearly all participants wanted to know the paratuberculosis herd status of purchased cattle. In contrast to the supporters, the informed sceptics and the deniers did not consider paratuberculosis a dangerous epizootic disease and would not welcome a mandatory control programme. The deniers and the affected supporters, but not the informed sceptics and the free supporters, assumed that their herd is affected by paratuberculosis. Unlike the deniers, all other groups would enrol in a control programme if the pathogen would have been found in their herd. Protecting future profitability and improving animal health were the two most important motivations to control paratuberculosis in all groups followed by aspects related to the marketing of breeding cattle. Most frequently, the costs and the assumed inaccuracy of diagnostics tests were mentioned as obstacles that hamper programme enrolment.
Significantly different attitudes of farmers regarding paratuberculosis control were identified. Therefore, tailored rather than uniform communication strategies are required to enhance participation in voluntary paratuberculosis control programmes.