Mastitis continues to be a challenge to the dairy industry. Several mastitis control practices such as post-milking teat disinfection, blanket dry cow therapy, coliform mastitis vaccines, and inorganic bedding (ex. sand) have helped combat this issue. However, to truly reduce incidence of mastitis, these methods must be executed effectively and most importantly, consistently. To ensure this include the additional factors of social variables and communication on your farm. A recent study in the Journal of Dairy Science found that social variables, in addition to management practices, were associated with lower bulk tank somatic cell count in eastern dairy herds.

You can have a state-of-the-art protocol for preventing mastitis but your prevention program will be less successful unless you follow through with procedures and value the importance of mastitis prevention. This emphasizes the importance of social factors like knowledge, behaviors, and attitude towards mastitis control among your employees. Positive attitude in the farm’s ability to combat mastitis, effective communication, strict protocols and proper motivation are all essential to reducing risk of mastitis.

According to the survey study, when employees received a financial or other penalty if somatic cell count increased, it was strongly associated with lower bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC). This relationship presents an interesting strategy to enforcing your mastitis prevention protocols: the framing effect.

The Framing effect is a cognitive bias in which people make a choice based on if it’s presented as a gain or a loss. Although the outcome is the same, this bias causes a preference for avoiding losses versus acquiring gains. Due to this, a person is more motivated to avoid a penalty than to receive an award for good performance. This concept can be applied to farmer views of mastitis and the success of mastitis control practices.

If an increase in BTSCC and mastitis results in a penalty (for example, a cut in pay), employees will be more motivated to keep these numbers under control than if they just received a pat on the back for doing so. Simply shifting the mindset about mastitis on your farm could help improve effectiveness and consistency of your mastitis prevention program. If this shift in motivation is effective, give it a try for other management areas on the farm!