Motivating behaviour change in mastitis control was explored by Finola Mc Coy, Animal Health Ireland at the Cattle Association of Veterinary Ireland conference this weekend.

A vet with a masters in livestock health and production, Mc Coy has extensive experience of the dairy sector in Ireland, UK and New Zealand. Previously a mastitis research officer with Teagasc’s research team in Moorepark, Finola is currently programme manager for CellCheck.

According to Mc Coy, the business case for farmers to improve mastitis control in their herds is very clear. The research shows us that there are significant economic gains to be made through increased production, a reduction in cases treated and so on, she said.

Farmers report that dealing with mastitis is very stressful, thus reducing the prevalence and incidence of infection would reduce that stress level. There are also longer term gains at an industry level; having a constant supply of raw product of a high quality increases our competitiveness and provides market security.

Whilst there is a clear economic argument for improving udder health and no shortage of evidence-based recommendations, there are still some farmers who do not adopt and implement those recommendations in order to have the best mastitis control, she said.

McCoy said that a “whole-of-industry, collective approach” would be valuable when it comes to improving udder health on a national level.  She encouraged livestock vets to consider how they can influence farmer behaviour.

“If a farmer does not believe that mastitis is currently a problem, or a threat to their herd, then they will not perceive the advice that follows to be relevant to their situation. Records, data and benchmarks  may be useful in  influencing the degree of ‘perceived threat. Similarly, the use of evidence for the the effectiveness of the recommended course of action may improve the ‘belief of self-efficiency’,” said McCoy.

She encourages vets to ask questions about the farmer’s goals, perceptions and previous experiences.  She also recommended that livestock vet practices develop a communication strategy around mastitis control. “Have a common and consistent message. Create a demand for mastitis control services by offering them. Start with proactive and engaged farmers, who will then become positive advocates for what you can offer,” concluded McCoy.

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