* Funded by Strategic Research Programme 2016–2021
The modelling of disease spread is crucial to the farming industry and policy makers. In some of these industries, excellent data exist on animal movements, along with the networks that these movements create, and allow researchers to model spread of disease (both epidemic and endemic). The Cattle Tracing System is an online recording system for cattle births, deaths and between-herd movements in the United Kingdom and is an excellent resource for any researchers interested in networks or modelling infectious disease spread through the UK cattle system. Data exist that cover many years, and it can be useful to know how much change is occurring in a network, to help judge the merit of using historical data within a modelling context. This article uses the data to construct weighted directed monthly movement networks for two distinct periods of time, 2004–2006 and 2015–2017, to quantify by how much the underlying structure of the network has changed. Substantial changes in network structure may influence policy-makers directly or may influence models built upon the network data, and these in turn could impact policy-makers and their assessment of risk. We examined 13 network metrics, ranging from general descriptive metrics such as total number of nodes with movements and total movements, through to metrics to describe the network (e.g., Giant weakly and strongly connected components) and metrics calculated per node (betweenness, degree and strength). Mixed effect models show that there is a statistically significant effect of the period (2004–2006 vs 2015–2017) in the values of nine of the 13 network metrics. For example median total degree decreased by 19%. In addition to examining networks for two time periods, two updates of the data were examined to determine by how much the movement data stored for 2004–2006 had been cleansed between updates. Examination of these updates shows that there are small decreases in problem movements (such as animals leaving slaughterhouses) and therefore evidence of historical data being improved between updates. In combination with the significant effect of period on many of the network metrics, the modification of data between updates provides further evidence that the most recent available data should be used for network modelling. This will ensure that the most representative descriptions of the network are available to provide accurate modelling results to best inform policy makers.
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