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What’s driving producer adoption of mastitis prevention?

Emilie Belage, David Kelton, Amy Westlund and Hélène Poirier for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 November 2016

Dairy farmers have been dealing with mastitis for decades, and according to research, it’s one of the most costly diseases to the industry: about $4 million in losses each year, according to the Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network.

David Kelton, researcher at University of Guelph, leads a research project, funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2, on impediments to adoption of best milking practices. His master’s student, Emilie Belage, who is working on the project, held four focus groups in Ontario in the spring of 2016 to investigate why producers adopt certain mastitis prevention practices and not others.



The aim of the study was to identify barriers preventing producers from effectively following a number of established best harvest practices at milking time. Each focus group consisted of up to 10 local dairy producers.

They found when it comes to udder health, risk perception influences management. In fact, producers’ ideas and perceptions regarding milk quality, as well as low somatic cell count (SCC), influenced their motivation for prevention of mastitis on their farm.

For instance, some producers reported their goal was to maintain a bulk tank SCC of 100,000 cells per milliliter or lower year-round, if possible. Other producers preferred focusing their efforts on other issues, like lameness or transition, as long as their bulk tank SCC was between 200,000 and 300,000 cells per milliliter.

It seemed that to most producers, if mastitis was not a current issue on their farm, they were less likely to prioritize it.

Education or knowledge access was also mentioned as a limiting factor. Some producers indicated they lacked sufficient information or wanted more information about why certain practices were important and needed, especially when it came to training employees.


Others questioned the usefulness or ease of implementation of some practices. Some mentioned if they had proof the practices worked and would increase their milk quality, they would consider including them in their current routine.

By nature, milking is a routine activity: Habits and consistency are an important part of milking procedures.

However, good and bad habits are hard to break, and perhaps without some kind of motivation (penalty or incentive) or re-training, farmers who are already producing, by definition, good-quality milk (i.e., bulk tank SCC of less than 400,000 cells per milliliter) will see no reason to change or adapt their behaviour.

In fact, most producers agree, “If their routine ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, producers shouldn’t be afraid to implement some of the recommended milking practices they may not be using.

These guidelines were developed based on research and practices, like wearing gloves at milking time, using automatic take-offs and using a post-milking teat dip, have been shown to prevent elevations in SCC.

Belage hopes her findings will help to promote better access to information and knowledge in the industry.  end mark


Additional collaborators on this project include Andria Jones-Bitton, associate professor; Stephanie Croyle, doctoral student, University of Guelph; and Simon Dufour, associate professor, Université de Montréal.

This project is an initiative of Canadian Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network, supported by a contribution from the Dairy Research Cluster Initiative.

For more information, Email Emilie Belage.

Dairy Research for a Healthy World
Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national policy, lobbying and promotional organization representing Canada’s farmers.

DFC works to support sustainable dairy production; facilitate solutions to provincial/national challenges; provide credible research of dairy products on a national basis; and create innovative ways to grow the market.