QMA Preliminary Survey Results

Ronald Erskine, DVM, PhD
College of Veterinary Medicine
Michigan State University

calf

The Quality Milk Alliance (QMA), a five-year project funded by USDA-NIFA, is dedicated to reducing mastitis and antibiotic use in dairy cows. We will achieve our goals by developing a system (Aim 1- QMA Farm Evaluation) that will not only assess traditional key areas of a herd quality milk programs (for example, milking proficiency and equipment) but also help dairy producers and their veterinarians become better employee “coaches.”

The QMA system will be the basis for a combined online and hands-on educational program to certify specialists (Aim 2) who will apply the QMA evaluation on dairy farms. Additionally, the QMA system will be tested as an intervention (Aim 3) for dairy herds to determine if this approach can reduce herd somatic cell counts, the number of cows with intramammary infections, and antibiotic use among adult dairy cattle.

The purpose of the QMA Farm Evaluation is to identify key management and communication deficiencies in mastitis control practices within dairy herds. As an initial step towards this goal, a combination of a mail survey and focus groups were used to capture the diversity of farms and individuals and generate an in-depth understanding of employee perceptions.

Our mail survey was sent to 1700 Grade A certified dairy farms, of which 628 dairy producers completed and returned the questionnaires (39% response rate; 23 in FL, 281 in MI, and 324 in PA). The survey was administered through the Wolfgang Freese Survey Research Laboratory at the Social Science Research Center (Mississippi State University) and used “five points of contact by mail” 1) an initial letter, 2) the first copy of the survey, 3) a reminder letter, and 4 and 5) a second and third copy of the survey if needed.

To include the perspective of dairy farm employees and identify potential barriers of communication between employees and managers, we also conducted focus groups representing dairy farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida that included: owners/managers of dairy herds (4 groups), English-speaking farm employees (3 groups), and Spanish-speaking farm employees (5 groups). Focus group interviews were conducted, transcribed and analyzed by the Julian Samora Institute, Michigan State University.

Results:
The average herd size was 107 cows and the three-month average bulk tank Somatic Cell Count (BTSCC) for all herds was 191,000 cells/mL. Survey responses for selected mastitis control practices are presented in Table 2. These results are producer/manager reported behaviors and do not necessarily reflect actual compliance or proficiency. Table 3 is a summary of producer/manager perceptions as to the top three most important management practices (from a list provided by the investigators) to reduce mastitis (white-shaded cells) and antibiotic use (blue-shaded cells) on dairy farms.

Table 1- Description of herds participating in survey

 

Florida

 

Michigan

Pennsylvania

Mean

(all states)

Survey Sample 

119

737

765

—-

Surveys Returned

23

281

324

Number of Herds: < 250 cows

4

242

311

—-

Number of Herds: 250-500 cows

7

14

7

—-

Number of Herds: > 500 cows

12

25

6

—-

Mean Herd Size

1,086

187

77

107

3 month BTSCC (cells/mL)

238,000

161,000

199,000

191,000

 

Table 2- Selected mastitis control practices reported from survey

 

Yes

No

Always

Often

Sometimes

Never

 

Pre-milking teat disinfection

86%

14%

Post-milking disinfection

93%

7%

Water use in preparation 

22%

78%

Dried with separate towels

89%

11%

Gloves worn 

57%

43%

Teats stripped before milking

71%

29%

Use alcohol pads before infusion

79%

6%

6%

6%

Infuse antibiotics at dry off

75%

5%

11%

10%

Clean alleys/gutters each milking

71%

13%

11%

3%

Insure strict compliance of milking protocols

50%

23%

13%

7%

Train employees in mastitis protocols

43%

20%

18%

17%

Use of internal sealant (dry off)

39%

2%

7%

50%

Records for all treatments 

36%

11%

13%

36%

Milk mastitis and treatment cows separately

36%

5%

15%

35%

Use individual SCC to identify infected cows

31%

21%

27%

19%

Review treatment records before decision to treat

27%

15%

35%

19%

Culture milk samples from clinical cases

6%

9%

51%

32%

Use oxytocin for clinical mastitis

6%

8%

35%

49%

 

Table 3– Most important practices to reduce mastitis and antibiotic use (producer perception)

 

Most important

Second most important

Third most

important

Use of intramammary antibiotics at dry off

38%

24%

18%

Strict compliance of milking protocols

27%

13%

11%

Clean alleys/gutters each milking 

6%

18%

19%

Milk mastitis and treatment cows separately

10%

6%

8%

Train employees in mastitis protocols

6%

9%

10%

Use of an internal sealant at dry off

3%

17%

9%

Culture milk samples from clinical cases

4%

5%

5%

Maintain treatment records of clinical cases

4%

5%

10%

Review records for treatment decisions

5%

5%

7%

Use natural therapies to treat mastitis

22%

10%

6%

Treat cows for full course of antibiotic doses

10%

13%

12%

Use alcohol pads before intramammary infusion

5%

11%

13%

Use individual SCC (conductivity) to mastitis

22%

14%

11%

 

Discussion:

The results showed 86% or greater of the farms practiced the critical mastitis control procedures of pre- and post-milking teat disinfection and drying teats. Likewise, 80% or greater of the herds ‘always or frequently’ used alcohol pads before teat infusions, dry cow therapy, and cleaning the alleys and gutters in barns at each milking.

However, critical behaviors that are believed to reduce the use of unproductive antibiotic therapy for mastitis, such as recording all treatments (47%), review of treatment records to identify previous treatments (42%) and bacterial culture of milk from clinical mastitis cases (15%) were reported as ‘always or frequently’ done. Although 73% of herds ‘always or frequently’ assured strict compliance of milking protocols, only 63% reported that they trained employees.

When asked to rank the importance of mastitis management practices from a list provided in the survey, 80% of the herds ranked use of dry cow therapy in the top three choices, 51% ranked assuring compliance of milking procedures, and 43% ranked cleaning the barn environment. Use of individual cow SCC or conductivity (47%), natural therapies (38%), treating cows for the full regimen of prescribed doses (35%), and use of alcohol pads before infusion of teats (29%) were ranked by farms as the top three choices for reducing antibiotic use. However, maintaining treatment records, review of records for therapeutic decisions, and use of bacterial culture of milk samples from clinical mastitis cases were all ranked in less than 20% of the herds.

Preliminary results from this survey suggest that maintaining better compliance of milking protocols, as well as more consistent employee training, may be opportunities for improvement in mastitis control on dairy farms. Additionally, significant barriers remain to producer acceptance of treatment record use and bacterial culture of milk in therapeutic decision-making. Subsequent analysis of the focus group results will help augment the survey data and identify significant management culture barriers, especially as pertains to employees. This information will be incorporated into our Quality Milk Alliance evaluation system for testing in 12 pilot herds for practicality and logistics.

To view a full-size poster of the preliminary findings and download a PDF, click here.

 

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