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Schewe study on herd management and somatic cell counts published in Journal of Dairy Science

Oct 31, 2015

Herd management and social variables associated with bulk tank somatic cell counts in dairy herds in the Eastern United States

Rebecca L. Schewe, J. Kayitsinga, G.A. Contreras, C. Odom, W.A. Coats, P. Durst, E.P. Hovingh, R.O. Martinez, R. Mobley, S. Moore & R.J. Erskine

Journal of Dairy Science, October 2015

Rebecca Schewe

Rebecca Schewe

The ability to reduce somatic cell counts (SCC) and improve milk quality depends on the effective and consistent application of established mastitis control practices. The U.S. dairy industry continues to rely more on nonfamily labor to perform critical tasks to maintain milk quality. Thus, it is important to understand dairy producer attitudes and beliefs relative to management practices, as well as employee performance, to advance milk quality within the changing structure of the dairy industry.

To assess the adoption rate of mastitis control practices in United States dairy herds, as well as assess social variables, including attitudes toward employees relative to mastitis control, a survey was sent to 1,700 dairy farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida in January and February of 2013. The survey included questions related to 7 major areas: sociodemographics and farm characteristics, milking proficiency, milking systems, cow environment, infected cow monitoring and treatment, farm labor, and attitudes toward mastitis and related antimicrobial use. The overall response rate was 41 percent (21 percent in Florida, 39 percent in Michigan, and 45 percent in Pennsylvania). Herd size ranged from 9 to 5,800 cows. Self-reported 3-mo geometric mean bulk tank SCC (BTSCC) for all states was 194,000 cells/mL.

 Multivariate analysis determined that proven mastitis control practices such as the use of internal teat sealants and blanket dry cow therapy, and not using water during udder preparation before milking, were associated with lower BTSCC. Additionally, farmer and manager beliefs and attitudes, including the perception of mastitis problems and the threshold of concern if BTSCC is above 300,000 cells/mL, were associated with BTSCC. Ensuring strict compliance with milking protocols, giving employees a financial or other penalty if BTSCC increased, and a perceived importance of reducing labor costs were negatively associated with BTSCC in farms with nonfamily employees.

These findings highlight the need for a comprehensive approach to managing mastitis, one that includes the human dimensions of management to maintain the practice of scientifically validated mastitis control practices.