Veterinarian Robin Franzon, a graduate from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege in Belgium, spent five weeks travelling throughout Kenya to learn about milking routines and spreading knowledge on mastitis prevention and control. What he learned could help Kenyan dairy farmers improve herd health and increase milk yields.
During the course of the investigation, Franzon (along with Cid Lines and a local partner in Kenya) discovered that some 39.3% of all quarters were infected by mastitis. In fact, sub-clinical mastitis is the biggest problem on small-scale farms in Kenya. Some 59% of the quarters milked manually were infected, and nine in ten tested positive on the CMT test.
Kenyan dairy farmers were asked to fill in a questionnaire in order to determine on-farm milking practices. The results showed that improper milking practices – the use of a collective rather than an individual cloth to clean teats, not washing hands before milking, and not disinfecting teats before and after milking – all contributed to the prevalence of mastitis on Kenyan dairy farms. The questionnaire was careful to pose open-ended questions, allowing the farmers to share their thoughts. Their answers revealed a good understanding of mastitis in general, but a lack of understanding about sub-clinical mastitis.
Creating awareness is often about challenging mindsets. One of the biggest myths that must be challenges is with regards to how Kenyan farmers evaluate losses. Typically, they consider the price of discarded milk, drugs and veterinarian costs. These factors, however, only represent about 10% of the total cost of mastitis, said Franzon.
“The main loss (60%) is represented by reduced milk yield,” he continued. “This loss is hard to visualize because it represents money unearned and not money spent.”
Addressing mastitis starts on the ground through farm visits and direct contact with farmers. An important aspect of the visit is the demonstration of the CMT-test. Kenyan farmers, said Franzon, are very motivated to improve production and willing to change their habits. He found that they were especially interested in the CMT-test as it was something they could do on-farm themselves.
Raising awareness at the ground level can be a painstakingly slow process though, which is why researchers complemented the visits with conferences. The meetings were open to individual farmers, as well as members of cooperative milk boards. For the cooperative milk boards, which purchase 14% of milk produced in Kenya, the meetings stressed the economic losses due to poor milk quality.
Another potential avenue for creating awareness is via veterinarians. According to Franzon, the role of veterinarians in Kenya is currently limited to the prescription of antimicrobials. It does not involve prevention. In order to better manage mastitis, he says that it is necessary to teach veterinarians about mastitis prevention, as well as the importance of good hygiene before, during and after milking.
In the long term, Franzon recommends follow-up meetings to increase participation, and the creation of model farms where trained farmers can become the messengers of prevention.
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