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Cattle Country: One Health: Understanding the connection between farmer, animal, and environmental health

June 1, 2023 — 

The following article was written by Breanna Zwick, for the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE), University of Manitoba.  It was originally published in Cattle Country in June 2023.

It is often said that a farm is like a well-oiled machine. There are many moving parts that make up a productive and profitable operation. The cogs that help maintain a successful livestock operation fall under three categories: Humans, animals, and the environment.

New research is showing that these elements are more connected than we realize. “One Health” and “One Welfare” are areas of study indicating that human, animal, and environmental health, and welfare are interconnected. Given that these factors as linked, we are starting to understand that choices impacting one can have consequences for the other two.

Farmer Well-being

The past few years have been challenging for many people’s health, both physically and mentally. With the pandemic lockdowns, extreme weather, growing inflation, and other stressful and challenging events, stress on farms can become overwhelming at times. Recent research has shown that farmers are experiencing higher levels of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression as compared to the average person. There is even evidence that livestock producers may experience higher levels of stress compared to crop producers.

Beyond stress, farming is a physically demanding occupation. Farming can often be dangerous, leading to occupational injuries, often related to animal handling or equipment usage. In addition to workplace accidents, physically demanding jobs can lead to chronic use injuries like joint pain, muscle strain, and tendonitis.

Research regarding the scope of stress that farmers are faced with is important to ensure that the right support can be offered and is tailored to meet the needs of farmers. Just as you maintain your equipment regularly, it is important to maintain your own health and well-being. “Remember: you are your farm’s greatest asset!” says Cynthia Beck, cattle producer and rural mental health provider from Saskatchewan. In addition, it is important to remember that it’s not just our physical and mental health that affects overall well-being. To remain mentally and physically healthy, we must also consider our social, financial, occupational, spiritual well-being.

Connecting Farmers and Animals

We have recently started to understand the connection between farmers and the animals on livestock operations. A 2018 study in Brazil found that a positive attitude towards animals and proper training in stockpeople was related to better animal health in commercial beef farms. Beyond beef operations, another study found that high stress and anxiety and low resilience in farmers was associated with having more severely lame cows and lower milk yield on dairy farms.

Do stressed animals lead to stressed farmers? Is it the other way around? The research is not yet clear. However, sometimes addressing workplace or environmental factors to limit the stress of either the animals or the farmer can have positive impacts on the other.

Land and crop health are also concerns for farmers, and recent studies have found that promoting biodiversity can help not only the environment, but also help improve soil health, provide natural pest management, reduce the need for fertilizer, and prevent erosion.

Extreme weather events including droughts, wildfires, temperatures, and flooding can be stressful for both humans and animals. Other challenges including farm finances, employee retention, and workload pressure can add to farmer stress. It is often easier to notice and tackle issues impacting physical health, but on-farm issues impacting mental health can be just as harmful. While we are learning that humans, animals, and the environment are connected, we also need to learn how we can address the health and welfare challenges for all.

On-Going Research and How You Can Get Involved

A current study, led by Dr. Meagan King at the University of Manitoba, seeks to better understand the connection between farmer well-being, animal health and welfare, as well as environmental and operational health. The research team is looking for beef operation owners and decision-makers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario to participate in the study by completing an online survey.

During this 30-minute survey, you will be asked questions about you and your operation. These questions will pertain to tasks you may perform, current practices, occupational and mental health, and support you may have on your farm. There are also a few questions pertaining to the health of your animals as well as your perceptions and practices related to wildlife on your operation.

The goal is to assess and understand the current stress, anxiety, and resilience of farmers, providing insight into the resources that may be useful to the livestock community. While there is some research regarding stress on farms, all causes of stress and the potential assistance that is most needed and practical is not fully understood. Addressing stress and providing resources may lead to greater impacts to on farm productivity, sustainability, and even the profitability of livestock operations in Manitoba. With your help, we may be one step closer to knowing how to help keep farms running like a well-oiled machine.

Professor Meagan King (Meagan [dot] King [at] umanitoba [dot] ca) and her MSc student Breanna Zwick (zwickb [at] myumanitoba [dot] ca) are running the study. They would love to hear from you if you would like additional information. If you are interested in participating in our survey, please follow this link:

We have partnered with beef researchers at the Universities of Manitoba, Guelph, Calgary, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for this project. The survey was created in collaboration with Heather Watson from Farm Management Canada.

If you or a loved one are in need of support, please check out the following supports:



Support tailored to the agricultural community.

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Crisis support regarding suicide.

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Crisis support for anyone experiencing distress.

T: (204) 786-8686 Toll free: 1 (888) 322-3019 Website:

Professional services near you:

Or you can always talk to your family doctor

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