Skip to Main navigation Skip to Left navigation Skip to Main content Skip to Footer

University of Minnesota Extension

Extension is almost done building a new website! Please take a sneak peek or read about our redesign process.

Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Farm life > Characteristics of successful dairy farms

Print Icon Email Icon Share Icon

Characteristics of successful dairy farms

Jim Salfer

resting cows in barn Extension summer dairy on-farm field days highlight well-managed farms that may have unique facilities and business strategies.

Extension educators visit a wide variety of farms, some employing the latest technologies and others making excellent use of existing facilities. From organic or transitioning farms to a goat farm taking advantage of higher milk prices, these farms have very different business strategies. Yet, there are some common characteristics among the most successful businesses.

Passion for the work and a positive attitude about the future

This can be challenging during extended periods of low milk prices. These farms understand that businesses run in cycles. They believe that farming can be a good business and provide them with the lifestyle they desire.

Long-term and short-term goals

These farms develop business strategies based on their values, skills, interests, resources and vision for the future. Successful producers analyze industry trends and develop a strategy that capitalizes on their unique strengths. In the short term, they take advantage of opportunities as they arise. This might include such opportunities as forward contracting feed and/or milk, or stashing cash during periods of profitability.

No one can predict the future. These plans are living breathing documents to review annually to allow the business to adapt and change.

They execute their plans

Plans need not be complicated to be successful. It is better to have a simple, thought-out business strategy that is well executed than to have an elaborate business plan that sits on a shelf.

A strong business network

Every successful business has a group of trusted advisors that they periodically meet with to share their business strategy. This could include agribusiness personnel and others in the industry. They annually review progress and share their vision for the future. In addition, they often choose to join a peer group of dairy producers, finding members that will provide honest feedback and constructive criticism. They challenge these groups to provide suggestions to improve the business.

Comfortable cows

Each cow on the farm is a potential profit center. Dairy producers need to allow each cow to maximize her genetic potential and make the most lifetime profit for the farm. Clean, dry and comfortable healthy cows will be higher producing cows. Successful farms keep all animals on the farm clean and well bedded. Buildings are well ventilated. Water and mangers are clean.

The top producers realize that dry cow management is the key to a profitable subsequent lactation. Transition cows (three weeks before calving to a month after calving) are special cows with very special needs. The majority of health problems occur during this period of time. Good dairy producers observe these cows closely and intervene at the first sign of trouble, before cows get extremely ill.

Procure/produce high quality forage

The basis of our dairy cow diets is high quality forage. Profitable farms work hard to procure high quality forage for their cows. They also do an excellent job of managing forage inventory to minimize ration changes throughout the year.

Good record keeping

Production and financial records are crucial to make management decisions. Records, used in conjunction with goals and an action plan, can set a course for improved profitability. Successful farms use monthly records to monitor progress against goals and annually use records to benchmark their farm against past performance and other dairies.

Work/life balance

Successful producers recognize the importance of off-farm activities. This can include professional improvement conferences where they can network and develop an outside perspective of their industry. Some people volunteer in their church or other civic organizations. It is also important to spend some time away from the farm to refresh. You will come back with a new perspective and renewed appreciation of your business.

These common characteristics are size and business strategy neutral. The good news is that there are no magic feeds, pills, shots or other secrets that successful producers have in their management toolbox. Most producers can implement these practices and many of them do not require high amounts of capital outlay.


  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy