“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: milking management and mastitis prevention

By Emilie Belage, MSc., (U. of Guelph) in collaboration with Dr. David Kelton (U. of Guelph), Amy Westlund (SPARK writer, U. of Guelph) and Hélène Poirier (Transfer Office, CBMQRN)

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 (CBMQRN).

Dr. David Kelton, researcher at University of Guelph is leading a research project, funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2, on impediments to adoption of best milking practices. His masters student Emilie Belage 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, who were interviewed in a group setting about their mastitis prevention practices and milking routine.

During the group discussions, some producers indicated that 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.

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 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/mL 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 and 300,000 cells/mL. It seemed that to most producers, if mastitis was not a current issue on their farm, they were less likely to prioritize it.

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. BTSCC of less than 400,000 cells/mL) will see no reason to change, or adapt their behaviour. In fact, most producers agree that “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.

The_UdderZone_final_Page_12-791x1024In fact, most producers agree that “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 for mastitis prevention.


Kelton and Belage hope the findings will help to promote better access to information and knowledge in the industry, like designing new educational programs or tools that producers and their employees can use.


For more information about the project contact Emilie Belage at ebelage@uoguelph.ca.

This project is an initiative of the Canadian Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network,  supported by a contribution from the Dairy Research Cluster Initiative (Dairy Farmers of Canada, Agriculture and Agri‐Food Canada, the Canadian Dairy Network and the Canadian Dairy Commission).

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