Initial assessment of producers' experiences, perceptions and attitudes about mastitis and bulk tank somatic cell count management in the Southeast
Impacts of mastitis, including reduced quality milk and productivity, negatively affect the profitability and sustainability of dairies in the Southeast (SE). The Southeast Quality Milk Initiative (SQMI), an integrated research, extension, and education project involving 6 land grant universities in the SE, aims to reduce mastitis and lower bulk tank somatic cell counts (SCC) through cost-effective control strategies. The first aim of this project was to identify social, psychological, and economic barriers limiting adoption of practices known to effectively control mastitis. To address this aim, a qualitative survey was conducted to identify producers’ attitudes, their perceptions of control, the normative factors that influence their behavior towards mastitis control, and their attitudes on the ease of use, utility, and cost of associated control practices. In total, 3 focus groups (2 in KY and 1 in VA) and 18 personal interviews (producers in TN and VA) were conducted. Participants represented a range of farm size (40 to 1,200 cows), dairy experience (2 to 55 yr as owner or manager), bulk tank SCC (100,000 to > 600,000/ml; with either decreased or unchanged average SCC in the last 3 yr), and operational types. At each focus group and in personal interviews, a specific set of questions was posed. All content was subsequently reviewed for patterns and similarities. Producer responses were then grouped into key points. Findings summarized here are those that occurred frequently and were emphasized by producers through their input. Main trends are as follows: 1) Shortcomings remain in producer understanding of effects of subclinical mastitis on milk quantity and quality. 2) Producers’ long-term objectives drive their investment of time and financial resources into mastitis management. 3) Uncertainty existed on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of various mastitis control practices. 4) Producers wanted to know the bulk tank SCC that was most cost-effective in terms of the balance among associated costs of labor, management, penalties, and incentives. 5) Culling has been a favored mastitis management practice recently. 6) On-farm demonstrations of effective practices were the preferred means of communication. 7) Frustration resulted when implemented practices failed to control mastitis outbreaks. This information will be utilized to develop strategies for countering non-adoption rationales and form the foundation of a survey subsequently distributed to approximately 2,000 dairy producers in the SE. This work was supported by a grant award from USDA-NIFA-AFRI (2013-68004-20424).
Keywords: Qualitative survey, mastitis, behavior, dairy production