The adoption of an on-farm culture program by small- and medium-sized dairies in Pennsylvania to make proactive decisions

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,683.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Andrea Tholen
Penn State Extension-Mercer
Amber Yutzy
Penn State Extension

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: preventive practices, therapeutics
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal abstract:

    The enclosed proposal addresses a critical need for Pennsylvania: to decrease antibiotics on dairy farms, decrease costs associated with clinical mastitis treatment, increase animal well-being, increase milk quality and profitability. The lack of knowledge in making proactive treatment decisions regarding clinical mastitis has become an issue in the dairy industry. Many dairy producers treat clinical mastitis using antibiotics when often time’s antibiotics are ineffective. The lack of treatment knowledge and education on mastitis causing bacteria has led to overuse of antibiotics on our dairy farms. An adoption of an on-farm culture program would enable dairy producers to become educated on different types of mastitis-causing bacteria. Producers will be able to culture cows and obtain bacteriology results the next day, allowing an educated treatment decision to be made. This investment will deliver individual on-farm culture consultations with 8 dairy farms in Pennsylvania. This amount will cover supplies, travel time, and communication of results to producers and dairy influencers in Pennsylvania. Field days will be held in November 2013 to share results from the first 6 months of the project with the local community. The 8 farms that participate in this grant will be example farms for other producers in their local communities. Dairy influencers will communicate the idea of on-farm culture to local producers after seeing positive results at the field days. As more farms implement this program, this in turn will cut antibiotic use, costs of treatment, improve the quality of milk, and increase the producers profit throughout the state.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall objective of this project is to make dairy producers across the state of Pennsylvania aware of the on-farm culture tool to make educated treatment decisions regarding clinical mastitis. Utilization of this tool can have many benefits to dairy producers across the state. The 3 main objectives of this project are:

    1.) To decrease antibiotic use on dairy farms.
    Mastitis is associated with the most frequent antibiotic use in dairy cows (Mitchell et al., 1998). Antibiotics are frequently used to treat clinical mastitis, however often times antibiotics are either ineffective or not needed to treat the disease. This study will help producers decrease their antibiotic use.

    2.) To decrease the costs associated with clinical mastitis treatment.
    One study found that milk discarded due to antibiotic treatment could exceed $100 per cow per year (Bartlett et al., 1991). Producers that use unnecessary antibiotics lose profit due to discarded milk and can contribute to antibiotic resistance. This study will help producers reduce their use of antibiotics, thus reduce their costs associated with treatment.

    3.) Increase milk quality and profitability on dairy farms. Mastitis causes damage to the milk producing cells of the mammary gland thereby reducing milk yield and profitability through milk loss. One study found farms that implemented on-farm culture programs reduced their milk withholding time by 1 day, which in return allows them to gain more profitability through more milk being shipped (lago et al., 2011). Bacteria commonly cause mastitis infections in dairy cows and as a result of this decrease the quality of milk. Often times treatment is infective which can partly be attributed to the producer not knowing the species of bacteria in the gland. On-farm culture will allow the producer to make more informed decisions regarding treatment and increase their probability of clearing the infection.

    Eight different farms across Pennsylvania will participate in the on-farm culture project and will serve as examples for other producers statewide. In April 2013, the eight farms participating in the grant will be given a survey to examine current management practices, incidences of mastitis, antibiotic usage, current SCC, and barriers to on-farm culture. Additionally, each participating farm will take part in a training program given by Andrea Tholen, Amber Yutzy, or Greg Strait, dairy extension educators trained in on-farm culture, who will train the farms on proper on-farm culture techniques. Additionally, Ernest Hovingh, Penn State extension veterinarian, can assist farms and extension educators with questions regarding bacterial cultures. After each farm is trained and confident in culturing, farms will start recording data on a datasheet provided by Penn State Extension including cow ID, date, quarter, mastitis pathogen, treatment, days treated, days in milk (DIM), and lactation number. Farms will make treatment decisions according to the reference guide for mastitis-causing bacteria released from Virginia Tech, or through consultations with their herd veterinarian (Petersson-Wolfe and Currin, 2010). The 8 farms that participate in the grant will implement an on-farm culture program supported by the grant for a one year period (May 2013-April 2014). Each month dairy educators (Andrea, Greg, and Amber) will check in on the participating farms through phone calls to make sure records are properly kept and to answer questions the producer may have.

    After 6 months of implementation of the program, a field day in November 2013 will be held at 4 of the 8 farms to share success of the programs on their farms. Dairy industry personnel from all sectors of the industry will be invited, as well as local veterinarians, and local dairy producers. The field day will allow the producer that implemented the on-farm culture program to share his success and evaluation of using the on-farm culture program. At each field day at least 10 other producers, dairy personnel, and veterinarians will attend. Of the 10 producers/dairy personnel/veterinarians that attend the field day, each will share the success of the program with at least 2 other local dairy industry personnel or producers in the local community. Follow up surveys will be conducted with each participant in the field day as well as whom each participant shares the success of the program with. The goal of this program is to get at least 25 small to medium sized farms across Pennsylvania to adopt on-farm culture. Adoption of this program by at least 25 farms would reduce antibiotic use associated with mastitis, reduce costs associated with treatment of mastitis, improve animal well-being, increase milk quality and profitability statewide.

    Success of this project will be measured monthly be dairy educators doing monthly check ups with cooperating farms. These monthly check ups will make sure the project is moving in the right direction and that producers are keeping accurate records as well as understanding the culture process. Follow up evaluations will be conducted at 6 months and during the last week of the project to determine if measurable improvements were made in milk quality through measurements of SCC, reduction in antibiotic use and cost as compared to before on-farm culture began. The funded component of on-farm culturing will cease on April 30, 2014. However, the hopes are that each cooperating farm will continue to on-farm culture through their own funds as they see the benefits of the project.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.