By: Stan Moore, Michigan State University Extension Senior Dairy Educator
In business and in life, when we have problems, we often look for silver bullets, that is, the easy answer, the dramatic solution, the big score. Yet, the reality is that easy answers are rarely the best responses. Our dairy businesses are no exception, we are prone to seek silver bullet solutions rather than looking at all of the management factors that can affect an issue to make sure that some link isn’t missing or weak. That is getting to the root of the problem and understanding the factors that make it a problem now.
Take the example of mastitis control and antibiotic use. Michigan dairy producers are leaders in milk quality among dairy producing states, but they are always looking to get better.
According the Michigan State University Extension, those that perform best in this management area take a holistic approach to mastitis control and antibiotic use. Those that are the worst performers tend to look for one area to blame and seek a quick, silver bullet solution. The problem with silver bullet solutions is that they can have unintended consequences on other links in the chain of producing high quality milk, as well as missing the causes of the problem.
An example of a silver bullet solution would be to start treating every new case of mastitis with X brand antibiotic because you have heard from other dairy producers, and read advertisements that indicate it is the next best thing since sliced bread. Yet consider the unintended consequences: higher treatment cost to the farm, increase in discarded milk, treating some mastitis organisms that are not responsive to an antibiotic, and avoiding the underlying question: Why is mastitis and somatic cell count (SCC) high on my farm?
A more holistic approach, looking at all the links in the chain, would be to start with "What organism am I dealing with on my farm that is causing mastitis and high SCC?" Once I have determined the organism, "where is it coming from?" and "how is it being spread?" are great questions to ask. What can I do to prevent future infections? Should I treat it or not, will it respond to antibiotic therapy?
Certainly there are some types of mastitis that should be treated because the organism is susceptible to them. But even then, producers should evaluate why a problem occurred and watch for patterns that may provide clues.
Now you can start to put together a plan of attack! Don’t forget the all-important task of getting your employees involved and providing them training so that they not only know what to do, but why they are doing it. Last but not least, keep complete records of all treatments so that they can guide your future treatment decisions.
Problems present an opportunity. Take the opportunity to really understand the problem and attack it at its root, rather than grabbing for a silver bullet.