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Setting up your farm for success

Jim Salfer

Successfully managing a dairy farm can be challenging. There are moving parts, and they each need to be working well for success. This is not unlike successful sports teams. If the offense is great, but the defense is not, the chances of success are greatly diminished. Football season is here and once again Alabama is ranked number one in the pre-season polls. This is in spite of having a new quarterback and losing their Heisman award winning running back. I recently read an article on their coach Nick Saben’s coaching success. Saben is one if the winningest college football coaches of all time. His Alabama teams have won four national championships in the last seven years and have been ranked number one at some point during the season for the last 9 years. What is his key to consistent winning? Obviously he has an ability to recruit good players. But so do many other coaches. However, part of Saben’s success may be due to his theory of coaching. Saben focuses his players on a single goal every day. Surprisingly his focus with his players is not on winning. His entire focus is for players and for the team to improve every day. His philosophy is that winning is a by-product of players focusing on continually improving. He also adjusts his coaching philosophy from year to year depending on the strengths and talents of the different players.

This winning formula not only works in football, but works in dairy farming as well. I sometimes work with farmers whose cows are not milking as well as they desire. They ask about the key to achieving high production. What are the best feed additives, breeding programs, teat dips, etc.? The “best” are protocols and products that can consistently get implemented on the farm. High producing, healthy cows are the by-product of executing and improving on research proven protocols. This sounds really simple. It is simple in theory, but can be challenging to implement.

I surely am not discouraging farms from monitoring daily milk production and components. It is great feedback about how well your processes are working. But only monitoring milk production and components is reactive. For some areas of management measuring these will not identify problems soon enough. Monitoring milk pick up SCC for changes in somatic cell count works well in monitoring milking procedures. But if the reproductive program is not resulting in adequate pregnancies, it could take several months before milk production suffers. A more proactive approach is to invest time and focus on developing proper monitors to adequately determine if all areas of the dairy are doing well. High production will be the outcome if all management areas of the farm are high performing.

Just like in coaching, dairy farmers need to sometimes make rapid adjustments. Sometimes it is impossible to harvest our forages in a timely manner and they are not good quality. Sometimes the quantity of feed is not what we want. Sometimes adjustments in management need to be made based on changes in policy such as the new VFD or tail docking regulations. These may be frustrating, but good managers, just like good coaches, make changes and adapt. They continue to be successful.

Table 1 shows some of guidelines to success of some key management areas. Farm managers should work with their management team to develop monitors for all areas of the farm that affect profitability. If the proper indicators are identified and monitored on a regular basis, the chances of farm success are greatly improved. The result will be improved productivity and profit.

Table 1. Keys to success
Management area Keys to success
  • Producing or procuring high quality forages
  • High quality grains free from molds and toxins
  • High quality purchased feeds and by-products that complement home raised feeds
  • Rations based on stage of lactation and/or life
  • Consistency in:
    • Mixing
    • Particle size
    • Feed push ups
    • Feeding times
  • Prevent sorting
Milking and milk quality
  • Clean dry housing for all animals
  • Milking clean, dry, well stimulated teats
  • Rapid insemination after the end of the voluntary waiting period
  • Rapid identification and re-insemination of open cows
Transition cow program
  • Properly designed nutrition program to minimize disease
  • Rapid identification and treatment of disease
  • Housing adequate for stage of life
  • Good ventilation -- appropriate for weather
  • Clean, dry, comfortable lying area
  • Adequate lying and feeding space
Foot health
  • Proper foot bath protocols
  • Proper foot trimming protocols

September 2016

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