Prevention begins in the milking parlor
"[The milking parlor] is where you see the first signs of mastitis. The people doing the milking are the boots on the ground," Erskine said. "If an effort is not made to keep the cows clean, dry and comfortable, all the planning and research in the world does not go anywhere."
Erskine points out that many farms continue to struggle with the adoption of mastitis control practices.
"In particular, the delivery of outreach and education has failed to address producer and employee behaviors and attitudes toward mastitis control," he said.
Another issue is adherence to standardized procedures. "Most of the time how the protocol gets done is what makes the difference between success and failure in the milking parlor," Erskine said.
"We need to redouble efforts on employee training and education on dairy farms and emphasize staying with protocols. It's human nature for people to go through training and then drift away from the protocol. We are going to seek ways in the dairy farm community to keep protocols in place and not have people drift away from the proper procedures."
Another factor in efforts to reduce mastitis is that the U.S. dairy industry is increasingly diverse in herd size and housing, labor and management models.
"We need to develop and deliver Extension-based programs that will overcome behavioral barriers and have the flexibility to address the diversity of the U.S. dairy industry," Erskine explained.
To attain that goal, the researchers plan to develop and test a quality milk audit tool and intervention process for dairy operations, develop and test a quality milk specialist certification program, and then evaluate the impact of the audit interventions on dairy farms.
Researchers from Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Florida are also involved, along with an advisory panel made up of dairy producers, private veterinarians and dairy industry members from the United States, Canada and Ireland.