The Quality Milk Alliance (QMA) was the 2016 recipient of MSU Phi Kappa Phi Chapter’s “Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Scholarship,” which recognizes excellence in teaching, research, service, or a combination of these activities.  The project includes veterinarians from the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and researchers from the Julian Samora Research Institute.
The QMA is a five-year, multi-institutional project funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture with the goal of reducing the incidence of mastitis and antibiotic use on dairy farms. Mastitis is one of the most costly diseases of dairy cattle and impacts farm productivity, food safety, and the health and welfare of dairy cattle.
This pioneering project blends the research and applied cultures of both veterinary medicine and social science to assess practices for preventing and controlling mastitis on dairy farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In doing so, the QMA team has identified the dairy industry’s limited experience with labor management in general, and with Latino immigrant workers in particular.
These limitations require systematic attention as the size of dairy herds and reliance on non-family labor continue to increase, especially as the number of Latino dairy workers also increases. Employees perform critical tasks related to mastitis control, such as milking cows and keeping the barns clean. However, communication and training barriers between managers and employees limit the proper execution of tasks, leading to problems of “protocol drift,” which occurs when milkers do not follow proper milking procedures and can increase the incidence of mastitis. To address this problem, project leaders are promoting understanding among producers of different approaches to the effective management of employees.
The overall goal of the QMA team is not only to help dairy producers reduce mastitis through traditional veterinary medical practices, but also to engage employees as effective team members. In addition, the project team has promoted a novel role for veterinarians that goes from herd health advisor to educator of workers, or “on-farm science teacher.” Combining animal health and social science expertise, this project is addressing an animal health problem that limits the sustainability of the dairy industry and jeopardizes dairy food quality and global food security.