Cattle Purchasing Decisions Report

Defra has published a report on the factors that influence farmers’ decision-making and use of information when purchasing cattle. The report highlights that once a farm has a purchasing pattern that suits their system, these rarely change unless there is a large disruption. Within this, every individual purchase is based on the availability of the right animals, judgements of good value and trust in the seller.

Cattle movements are an important source of new bovine TB (bTB) infections. To design interventions which reduce the risk of transmission via cattle movements it is important to understand the decisions behind these cattle purchases. This work used interviews and focus groups with farmers to explain purchasing behaviours in England.

Key Findings

  • An individual farmer’s purchasing patterns are relatively stable. This is because purchasing is designed to maintain the farm system amongst other pressures.
  • Purchases are based on the availability of the right animals and judgements of good value. Reputation and trust of the seller are important factors in making these decisions with other sources of information often being used to confirm decisions.
  • Distinct purchasing typographies exist with each placing different levels of importance on factors such as data, cost and appearance.
  • For farmers seeking information to inform purchasing, ibTB was the most common source. However some farmers did request more information than is currently available.
  • Disruptions to the farm can create opportunities to assess and change purchasing practices. Example disruptions given include a large disease outbreak and changes in family situations.
  • How farmers respond to disruptions can follow specific behavioural patterns which policy interventions may be able to influence.

The findings of this report will support Defra’s goals of increasing responsible cattle movements in England. It also builds on our goals of increasing our use of social science evidence in policy making. Further work is ongoing to understand the practical implications of some of these findings.

Access the full report on Defra’s science and research projects website.


This report is based on 22 in-depth interviews and nine focus group sessions with farmers in the High-Risk Area (HRA) and Edge Area of England. This research was conducted with 29 farmers in the HRA and 58 farmers in the Edge Area in total. In addition to this there were 19 participants in the focus groups who were not farmers (vets and auctioneers).

There were five different approaches to cattle purchasing outlined in the study. In brief these are:

  1. The Chancer
    Motivated to purchase animals based on “good value” and impulse.
  2. The Entrepreneur
    Driven by financial margins and profit oriented.
  3. The Manager
    Purchases are to maintain their system and are carefully weighed up.
  4. The Stockman / Stockwoman
    Purchases are long term investments that are carefully considered.
  5. The Professional
    Buy and sell cattle for other farmers on a regular basis.

The report did not quantify the level of each of these typographies and there may be some overlap depending on situation (particularly “The Chancer”). Availability of cattle is important to all the different purchasing patterns. Farmers then have different priorities in which animal they choose or how they make decisions on these.

The report highlights that there will not be a single policy that will influence cattle purchasing practices due to the diversity of approaches and influences to buying cattle. Providing additional disease risk information at the point of sale may be relevant for some farmers, but others will benefit from local information and advisory services. Compensation values do not appear to be a significant factor in cattle purchasing decisions.

Defra commissioned and published an experiment designed to look at the impact of how we present information at auctions. Access the report on Defra’s science and research project website.