On October 9, Dr. Ron Erskine, professor for the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, presented his research regarding mastitis (an infection of the udder) and milk quality for the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NCFAR) in Washington, DC. Specifically, Erskine spoke to dairy management practices and the dynamics of a changing workforce in the dairy industry.
“Although today’s typical farm is family owned, the division of labor is changing,” says Erskine. “Farm size is increasing, more complex technology is being adopted, and a larger workforce is needed to keep up with production and animal welfare.”
According to Erskine, this dependency on a larger work force has created a cultural gap between employees and farm management. To help solve this, Erskine’s work is focusing on empowering farmers to train and educate their employees effectively.
“One thing we focus on is training employees to do the work the way that farmers want them to, and to do that, we have to explain why the work has to be done that way,” says Erskine. “We’ve found that to be a critical link in improving training efficacy and the health of cows.”
Besides communication and understanding, there are more obvious benefits to Erskine’s recommendations. Better training means work is done properly, which has immeasurable impact on cow health and food safety.
“Milking a cow the way we’re supposed to means we can reduce mastitis and the use of antibiotics,” says Erskine. “Our current research measures vacuum during milking, and tells us what the cows are thinking, in a way. We can use this data to design future training and set goals for education that inform farm management practices and wellness standards for the cows.”
Erskine also says that farm veterinarians play a key role in this process, from cow care to guiding communication between farmers and employees. For more information on Erskine’s research, visit the Quality Milk Alliance.