Worldwide, programs to improve udder health are implemented using communication tools and methods that inform and persuade dairy farmers. This study evaluated 2 communication strategies used in a mastitis control program in the Netherlands. To improve farmers' udder health management, tools such as instruction cards, treatment plans, checklists and software were developed following an argument-based comprehensive "central route." These tools were used during on-farm study group meetings for farmers organized by veterinarians and also during individual veterinarian-farmer interactions. The second strategy aimed at adopting a single management practice to increase the use of milking gloves during milking. This approach followed a straightforward "peripheral" route that used implicit persuasion techniques. Results of an online survey of 374 Dutch dairy farmers showed that most farmers were able and willing to use the educational management tools to increase udder health on their farms. They evaluated the tools positively regardless of the mastitis problems on their farms. This seems to indicate that the central route of communication is most effective when farmers are motivated to work on udder health in general. Results of repeated random telephone surveys before, during, and after the campaign on the use of milking gloves showed that the use of gloves increased from 20.9 to 42.0% of the respondents. Respondents' opinions about milking gloves also changed favorably, indicating that a relatively short peripheral campaign on a single action can have a sustained effect on farmers' behavior. Both communication strategies seem to be potentially successful in disseminating knowledge to a specific target group of farmers and in changing that group's behavior. However, to reach as many farmers as possible, the strategies should be combined. When optimizing these strategies, both the farmers' motivation to work on udder health and the aim of the campaign should be considered. When aiming to improve general udder health management, the central route seems to be effective if farmers are already motivated to optimize their udder health management. For farmers who are less motivated to work on udder health, the peripheral route seems to be most effective when aiming to change a single management practice. The evaluated communication strategies are examples of how management practices to control mastitis can be effectively communicated to farmers. As such, this study contributes to optimizing future programs to control and prevent diseases.
Copyright 2010 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.