Spring 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA2

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Bringing the Classroom to the Farm

Recruiting new clientele and launching new programs.

Robert R. Peters
Department of Animal Sciences
University of Maryland - College Park

Joe E. Manspeaker
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

Estelle Russek-Cohen
Department of Animal Sciences
University of Maryland - College Park

Have you recently become a county agent or state Extension specialist? Are you now wondering how to capture the interest of your clientele with a meaningful and effective program? One key to gaining the public's acceptance of your program may be the location you choose for your initial meetings. Adults learn best when the facilities: (1) are easily accessible, (2) provide an informal setting in which the audience feels free to participate, and (3) allow for socialization.1 Surprisingly, all of these conditions are found on the farm. So use the farm for your classroom and win the approval of your clientele!

Mastitis Problem

The subject we were interested in developing for an on-farm classroom was the "mastitis problem." For about 15 years, a simple, effective, and economical program of teat dipping and dry cow antibiotic therapy has been available to dairy producers to control mastitis.2 This control program has been widely advocated by Extension educators and others in the dairy industry because it significantly increases milk production, milk quality, and profits.

Yet, in spite of all the educational effort, mastitis remains a widespread and costly problem. It's estimated that 38% of the nation's dairy cows have mastitis and that this disease costs U.S. dairy producers over $2 billion annually.3 A recent survey of 15 states processing their dairy records at the DHI Computing Service in Provo, Utah, indicated the incidence of mastitis was greatest in Maryland cows. 4 Although we have no information about practice adoption, these results indicated that few Maryland dairy producers were employing effective mastitis control practices.

Maryland Situation

Extension programs for dairy farmers in Maryland typically have been presented during the winter meetings at a traditional location in 9 of Maryland's 23 counties. The purpose of these meetings is to update farmers on recent trends in all areas of dairy farming. This program format attracts a regular, but often small, percentage of the dairy farmers. This pattern persists despite efforts to offer a program that should appeal to all dairymen.

Thus, one objective of the current study was to determine if we could expand our audience through a series of statewide on-farm meetings. Secondly, would the on-farm approach result in adoption of recommended mastitis control practices?

The Program

In October, 1982, all agricultural county agents received a letter containing a brief description of the on-farm milking school program. The agents were to select dairy producers in their county with appropriate facilities for hosting a meeting on their farm. The hosting dairy farmers were asked to invite their neighbors to attend the meetings. The agents also publicized the meetings through radio and local press, Extension newsletters, and fliers, which the milk haulers delivered to neighboring farms.

The program was team-taught with an Extension dairy specialist, Extension veterinarian, and, in one county, a professional specializing in dairy farm sanitation. Usually 2 farms were visited daily, with meetings starting at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Each of the 2 presentations made by Extension personnel lasted about 45 minutes, with 15 minutes reserved for questions. The dairy specialist discussed the general area of milking equipment including guidelines on proper installation, maintenance, operation, and analyses. The Extension veterinarian explained mastitis management and procedures to determine the source of the mastitis problem. The dairy sanitation professional emphasized the importance of proper cleaning and sanitizing of milking equipment.

At the end of each program, printed materials were made available to those interested. In addition, a demonstration of principles behind the milking machine function was presented using an artificial udder in conjunction with the farmer's milking equipment. Equipment recommended for mastitis detection and milking machine analysis was also on display after the meeting. The participants then were asked to fill out a survey to help evaluate the programs and provide their name and phone number for a follow-up survey. To further socialization, several of the hosting farmers provided lunch after the program.


Holding 19 on-farm milking schools in 9 counties did increase our outreach and attract new clients. A survey of 228 of the 400 dairy farmers attending the on-farm meetings indicated 45% hadn't previously contacted their county agent and 25% said they hadn't attended an Extension meeting in 2 years. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents in the survey were owners or partners in the dairy operation. A majority (64%) were less than 40 years old and 62% had a high school education.

From January to March, 1983, the dairy farmers gathered in their neighbors' barn, milk house, milking parlor, or machine shop for the meetings. Overall, the attendance ranged from 3 to 56 per location, and averaged 21. The optimal number of participants for the facilities used in these meetings was between 20 to 25. When the audience surpassed this size, the number of questions raised by the participants markedly decreased.

Our program was effective in changing attitudes toward mastitis management . . . 60% to 94% of those responding in the survey indicated a desire to change practices. In May, 1983, 20% of the participants who stated on the survey they'd make at least 1 management change were telephoned. In the follow-up survey, 45% reported changes in milking procedures, 30% improved milking equipment, and 48% modified their overall mastitis control program. In all three areas, an average of two changes was made. About 51 % of the participants started an udder health program with their veterinarian after attending these meetings. After making these changes, 53% said they observed a decrease in their bulk tank somatic cell count-a measure of mastitis.

Interestingly, about 20% of those called during the follow-up survey wanted to know if these meetings would be held again. In addition, some veterinarians with primarily dairy practices reported that they had more requests to determine the source of the mastitis problem. Thus, it was apparent the on-farm milking schools created a great deal of interest in mastitis control.

The survey also showed that most Maryland dairy farmers were now dipping teats (89%) and using dry cow antibiotic therapy in all quarters (77%)-two key practices effective against mastitis. About 71 of the participants were using the combined program of teat dipping and dry cow therapy. Thus, it appears the majority of the state's dairy producers have recognized these are important mastitis management tools.

When dairy producers ranked the outside consultants for mastitis management advice, 73% chose the veterinarian as the key advisor. This finding agrees with a Minnesota report5 and strongly points out that as dairy Extension educators, we must develop a good working relationship with the local veterinarians. In fact, Williamson and Brown suggest that Extension efforts in mastitis control should perhaps be directed at or through veterinary practitioners rather than directly to farmers.6

Conclusions and Recommendations

We found that holding two-hour, on-farm milking schools throughout Maryland was effective in attracting dairy producers who had no previous contact with the county agent or hadn't attended an Extension meeting during the previous two years. The results of the telephone follow-up survey also indicated a significant change in mastitis control practice following these sessions.

One ingredient for success in attracting the dairy producers to the neighbor's farm was a personal invitation to an informal meeting. The program was also brief, concentrated on a single topic, and was addressed by two Extension specialists. The team approach gave the program meaning and maintained the participants' interest.

The on-farm meeting format is recommended particularly for new Extension agents or specialists interested in quickly gaining acceptance by their clientele. Established Extension workers may also find this approach useful if declining attendance at their traditional in-town meetings is a problem. Those trying to conduct on-farm meetings should select a farmer with a good reputation and clean facilities. It's recommended that a small audience be invited so those attending feel encouraged to ask questions.

Those making the presentations should use onsite farm facilities and equipment to illustrate the ideas being discussed. It's also important to demonstrate practical procedures dairy producers can take home and use on their farms.

In summary, we discovered that a winning combination that appealed to dairy farmers was a familiar on-farm meeting location, use of on-site facilities and equipment for illustrative purposes, demonstration of practical ideas, and a short presentation of the major points of the mastitis problem. This approach will attract farmers who don't usually attend Extension meetings. More importantly, those who attend are likely to take your suggestions home and put them into practice.


  1. R. E. Bender and others, Adult Education in Agriculture (Columbus, Ohio: C. E. Merrill, 1972), p. 17.
  2. R. P. Natzke and others, "Mastitis Control Program: Effect on Milk Production," Journal of Dairy Science, LV (No. 9, 1972), 1256.
  3. D. E. Jasper and others, "Bovine Mastitis Research: Needs, Funding, and Sources of Support," in Proceedings of 21st Annual Meeting of National Mastitis Council (Washington, D.C.: National Mastitis Council, 1982), pp. 184-86.
  4. DHI Provo Computer Workshop (30th Annual Computer Workshop of the Dairy Advisory Group, Provo, Utah, 1984), p. 37.
  5. N. B. Williamson and W. B. Brown, "Minnesota Dairy Farmers Attitudes to and Knowledge of Bovine Mastitis Control," in Proceedings of 22nd Annual Meeting of National Mastitis Council (Washington, D.C.: National Mastitis Council, 1983), pp. 36 and 38.
  6. Ibid.