Herd management and social variables associated with bulk tank somatic cell count in dairy herds in the eastern United States

R. L. Schewe, J. Kayitsinga, G. A. Contreras, C. Odom, W. A. Coats, P. Durst, E. P. Hovingh, R. O. Martinez, R. Mobley, S. Moore, R. J. Erskine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The ability to reduce somatic cell counts (SCC) and improve milk quality depends on the effective and consistent application of established mastitis control practices. The US dairy industry continues to rely more on nonfamily labor to perform critical tasks to maintain milk quality. Thus, it is important to understand dairy producer attitudes and beliefs relative to management practices, as well as employee performance, to advance milk quality within the changing structure of the dairy industry. To assess the adoption rate of mastitis control practices in United States dairy herds, as well as assess social variables, including attitudes toward employees relative to mastitis control, a survey was sent to 1,700 dairy farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida in January and February of 2013. The survey included questions related to 7 major areas: sociodemographics and farm characteristics, milking proficiency, milking systems, cow environment, infected cow monitoring and treatment, farm labor, and attitudes toward mastitis and related antimicrobial use. The overall response rate was 41% (21% in Florida, 39% in Michigan, and 45% in Pennsylvania). Herd size ranged from 9 to 5,800 cows. Self-reported 3-mo geometric mean bulk tank SCC (BTSCC) for all states was 194,000. cells/mL. Multivariate analysis determined that proven mastitis control practices such as the use of internal teat sealants and blanket dry cow therapy, and not using water during udder preparation before milking, were associated with lower BTSCC. Additionally, farmer and manager beliefs and attitudes, including the perception of mastitis problems and the threshold of concern if BTSCC is above 300,000. cells/mL, were associated with BTSCC. Ensuring strict compliance with milking protocols, giving employees a financial or other penalty if BTSCC increased, and a perceived importance of reducing labor costs were negatively associated with BTSCC in farms with nonfamily employees. These findings highlight the need for a comprehensive approach to managing mastitis, one that includes the human dimensions of management to maintain the practice of scientifically validated mastitis control practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number73889
Pages (from-to)7650-7665
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Attitudes
  • Behavior
  • Employees
  • Mastitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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