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University of Nottingham PhD student Bobby Hyde explains the leadership challenges in communicating his groundbreaking antimicrobial research to dairy farmers.
How do you link cutting-edge machine-learning research with hands-on cattle practice, and then educating farmers to improve herd health? For Bobby Hyde, still not yet 30 but the author of a growing body of pioneering academic work on antibiotic resistance in dairy farming, the answer is leadership through communication to negotiate with clients in stressful situations and bring them with you by shared decision-making.
Winner of last year’s RCVS ‘Fellows of the Future’ competition, Bobby graduated from Nottingham in 2013, then worked in cattle practice for two years before returning to complete a European Diploma in Bovine Health Management and achieve RCVS Specialist status. Following this, he continued his studies at Nottingham with a PhD.
“I am studying antimicrobial resistance, and we published the first research paper in the UK looking at usage within the dairy industry,” he said of a project that sits within the wider scientific ecosystem of the One Health Initiative.
“We currently have 60 farms across the UK gathering data about weight, disease, management, what the feed is, what kind of colostrum the calf gets, the humidity in the building, basically everything we can learn and understand about each calf’s journey and whether it gets disease or not. And from that I am using machine learning to tie millions of data points together so we can predict disease and figure out what the management factors are that farmers need to do. This will ultimately result, hopefully, in a bespoke calf-health plan.”
“You have to communicate, you have to be clear, and the way you do that can make a massive difference.”
Bobby hopes his work can make a contribution to a wider push on reducing reliance on antimicrobials. In 2013 antimicrobial usage was 62mg/ PCU across all species of livestock (62 milligrams of antibiotic used per Population Correction Unit ie kilograms of livestock on the farm at time of treatment). The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) committed to a target of 50mg/PCU by 2018. The veterinary profession has taken the lead in meeting and beating that target: the most recent figures across all livestock species, in 2017, were down to 37mg/PCU.
“That’s the science,” said Bobby. “The other challenge is then to get farmers to make management changes, to get the work across to them. My core aim with the research is to be able to demonstrate the practical impacts, on the ground day-to-day to farmers. The experience I have had of being a clinical vet, being on farms and working with people, has hopefully given me the ability to get the findings across.
“After a few years in clinical practice you can get a bit of a feel for what the right clinical thing to do is, but how you actually present that to the farm team is really the make or break and, whether it actually gets enacted or not. On most farms you can wander around them and can often pull out a few things you might do differently. But actually getting the farm team to change their behaviour on that, and getting everyone on the same page, is really the challenging thing, not so much the diagnosis itself. You’ve got a tremendous leadership responsibility in incentivising a change within that whole farm team – it’s not just the farmer, it’s also someone who just comes in and works Saturdays and you’ve got to get everyone to come along with you.”
Bobby said that the teaching and practical work at Nottingham had provided a brilliant grounding for the experience of going into farms.
“A lot of the time, you are doing an investigation or a procedure and being observed, and you have to be confident from the outset, and you need to have a clear direction. Then when you’re on a farm, the audience often isn’t a positive audience, because people are in stressful situations. You see hard-nosed farmers reduced to tears because you have had to condemn 15 of their prize animals because of bovine tuberculosis.
"You’ve got a tremendous leadership responsibility in incentivising a change within that whole farm team – it’s not just the farmer, it’s also someone who just comes in and works Saturdays and you’ve got to get everyone to come along with you.”
“Things like that can be quite challenging and the leadership skills you have developed in a clinical setting come to the fore. You have to communicate, you have to be clear, and the way you do that can make a massive difference. You can’t just come in, condemn some animals and then walk off the farm. People are going through a really traumatic time, not just as business owners but as animal keepers. They’re obviously emotionally invested as well as financially invested.”
Bobby’s developing leadership style focuses on collaboration and working with clients, not dictating to them.
“With preventative healthcare, what seems to work well is facilitating and trying to get all members of the team to feel like they’re involved in it, feel like they have a stake in it. I find that motivates people a bit more, if you can get the whole team banding together. And if you can facilitate the farm team to come up with management changes themselves, that often seems to have a higher chance of resulting in effective animal health outcomes.”
Bobby Hyde BVMedSci BVM BVS AHFEA DipBHM MRCVS, PhD student, University of Nottingham, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science